Chapter 20

I heard someone laughing. Slowly, with great trouble, I opened my leaden eyelids. At first I couldn’t see anything. I shook my head to try to get rid of the fog and drowsiness. Bit by bit, my eyes found the furniture in the room. I saw the table, the chairs the wardrobe… Then I saw Corporal Bowen standing there. He was the one laughing.

To me there was something demonic in his laughter; like the death-knell of my independence, the final sign that I had been beaten, and had given in. Corporal Bowen came nearer, and I felt his height intimidate me. No doubt he had come to take me to the television studio, where I was to say my piece like a good little boy. And then they’d take me back here, to this terrible room, perhaps to shoot me.

“Mr. Powell.”

Something in his voice caused me to raise my head.

“Do you feel bad?”

I nodded.

“Want some food?”

I nodded again. Strangely, despite the pain that was still in my arm, and although I felt very sick, my stomach was ravenous. One of the cursed symptoms of the PX300, no doubt.

“You still know the deal, or course,” said the Corporal. “No giving in, no lunch. Are you ready now to sign the television contract?”

I was. But strangely, what my stubborn lips said was, “No, I’m not.”

“Good for you,” said Corporal Bowen.

I stared at him, but he had his back to me, doing something. When he turned to me, I saw that he had a small bottle in his hand. He pushed the bottle hurriedly into his pocket, and offered a tablet to me.

“Here’s a food tablet,” he said. “Pop it into your mouth before anyone comes. It’ll keep you going.”

I refused it. What new deception was this? I wouldn’t take anything from the hands of any of these devils, unless I was forced to.

“No thank you,”  I said hoarsely. “I can’t forget that cigarette, nor the syringe…”

“No, no,” said the Corporal. “I understand. This won’t do you any harm, but I can’t expect you to trust me, fair play.” And he put the tablet back in the bottle.

“Forgive me for laughing earlier,” he said. “You looked so funny on that bed, your head hanging over the edge like a ball on a piece of string.”

“I didn’t feel funny,” I said sharply. “Did you ever have a dose of PX300?”

Corporal Bowen looked down and his lips tightened.

“Yes,” he said. “Once.”

I looked at him with renewed interest. Him too? Why? For what?

“But I can say this much to you,” he said. “The pain is terrible for a few hours, but there are no long-term effects – so long as you have no more than two doses, of course. A third dose can harm a man’s mind for life.”

I began shaking under a new wave of fear.

“Do you think… they’ll give me a third…?”

The Corporal spread his hands.

“It depends,” he said.

“On what?”

“On… lots of things.”

My shaking got worse. I ventured to ask,

“Why… why did you have a dose of PX300, Corporal?”

“Oh… they wanted to have… a confession out of me once. And PX300 was the only way.”

“I see.”

“Oh,” he said, “here’s the pharmacist.”

I raised my head, and saw Winter coming through the door. My heart sank. I expected to see Steele and Lewis-Sharpe come in after him, but they weren’t there. Winter was still in his white coat, and the terrifying bag was in his hand.

“Shut the door, Corporal” he said in Welsh.

He crossed over quickly towards me.

“How do you feel, Powell?”

“As if I’d just come through a mangle.”

“Sure, sure. Well, I want to give you another injection…”

“Oh no…!”

He placed his hand on my shoulder.

“Not PX300. Something to counteract that. I gave you two half-doses out of kindness, but I need to give you something to take away the effect.”

“Did Steele tell you to give it to me?”

“No. I’m giving this on my own account.”

“Hurry, Winter,” said the Corporal.

There was some different atmosphere between these two. I couldn’t understand, I was too mixed up, but I succeeded in trusting Winter. He gave me a prick in the arm. And this one didn’t hurt. In fact, within a second or two, my body began to relax and the pain in my arm decreased. I began to feel fine.

That moment, as Winter still had his syringe by my elbow, the door opened. The three of us turned our heads. Captain Steele was standing in the door.

“What are you doing, Winter?” he asked in English.

“Trying to undo my devilish work two hours ago,” he answered in Welsh.

“Who gave you permission to enter this room in my absence” (in English).

“Don’t you bark at me!” (in Welsh).

“Why, you…”

Steele started towards him with his face aflame. But as he approached him, Corporal Bowen shot out his long leg. Steele tripped over it and fell on his face by my feet. As he fell, he called out twice,

“Sharpe, Sharpe!”

“The electricity, Bowen,” said Winter, and like lightning he pulled another small syringe out of his waistcoat pocket, bent down over Steele’s body and before he could get up, gave him a quick injection through his sleeve. Steele collapsed like a damp rag. During the same few seconds Corporal Bowen had gone out into the corridor, touched a switch in the wall, and leapt back into the room.

We heard the sound of footsteps, and voices, and the big bulk of Captain Lewis-Sharpe came into view in the corridor. He galloped towards the door, but as his feet passed the threshold he screamed, and turned, and fell limply by the door. Another Purple Shirt came into view. He went through the same motions: scream, turn, and collapse. A third Purple Shirt came, but he saw what had happened to the first two and was wise enough to turn and escape. He didn’t get far. Corporal Bowen made a long leap over the electric floor, and disappeared after the fugitive. Voices; blows; a yell. Within ten seconds Corporal Bowen was back, looking very pleased with himself.

“A good day’s work, Bowen,” said Winter.

“A day to remember, Winter,” said Bowen.

I stared from one to the other in amazement. Everything had happened so quickly, that I couldn’t understand yet whether I was out of danger. But Steele was on the floor by my feet, Lewis-Sharpe heaped by the door, and another one lying flat behind him. And all this without me lifting a finger.

“Have you… have you killed them?” I asked fearfully.

Winter smiled, and the Corporal laughed cheerfully.

“No,” said Winter. “In two hours they’ll be up like birds. Caged birds, of course. Eh, Corporal?”

The Corporal laughed again.

“But,” I said, “perhaps there are more purple shirts around this place, and when they find out…”

“There are,” said the Corporal. “There are about two dozen Purple Shirts around this place. And when they find out… they’ll be as glad as you are.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Don’t try to understand now,” said Winter. “Bowen, take Powell down to the kitchen for a meal…”

“Glad to…”

“And send some of the boys up to take care of these.”

“At once” said the Corporal. “Come, Mr. Powell, to fill that empty stomach up a bit. Oh… Winter.”


“Better give a little something to Lewis-Sharpe. He’s starting to come round.”

“Sure,” said Winter, sticking his syringe into a bottle, “Off you go.”

The Corporal and I stepped over Lewis-Sharpe and the lad beside him, and went down the stairs. Where the stairs turned, the lad that Bowen had run after and given a hiding to, was sitting dazed with his back to the wall and beginning to stir himself. When he saw Bowen and me, he stumbled to his feet.

“It’s all right, Arfon,” said Bowen. “Don’t worry. Steele and Lewis-Sharpe have had it. We’ll have new captains after this.”

The lad stared at him incredulously, and then broke out with laughter.

“Well, blow me,” he said. “And that was what all the fuss was about?” He began to rub his head. “You gave me a blinder of a knock on the head, whatever.”

“I’m sorry about that, boy,” said Bowen, placing his hand on his shoulder. “But there was no time to explain to you, and I was afraid that you’d call the cavalry before I could be sure that the job was finished. I’ll pay you back with a pint tonight, to put everything right.”

The other lad laughed again, and said,

“I’ll hold you to that, you rascal.”

“Listen,” said Bowen, “go and get a handful of the lads together to carry Steel and Sharpe out to the lorry. We’ll have to take them down to the Grave.”

“OK,” said the lad, and off he went.

I turned to Bowen.

“Take them to the Grave?” I said.

“Gelert’s Grave – Beddgelert – mate,” he said. “Come on. You could eat a horse, I know.”

Within a few minutes I was sitting in a clean kitchen at a white wooden table eating for all I was worth, with a kind woman tending to me like I was a prince. I never tasted better food than that.

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