The Prisoner's Secret
The Prisoner's Secret17 mins 212 17 mins 212
The prisoner sat cross-legged in his cell, lost deep in his thoughts. The events of the previous day had greatly perturbed him. Before the elite soldier had paid him a visit, his life had been quite easy in the prison. No one knew of his crime but everyone knew that he was a protected prisoner. The warden took a personal interest in the prisoner's well being and that kept him safe from other prisoners. The word spread out within hours of his arrival in the prison that he was not to be touched unless one wanted a one way ticket to the solitary confinement room. There were rumours that he was a serial killer who had killed more than fifty people. The truth was far more pedestrian. He had killed one guard and injured one. The guard he killed was a tier III soldier, very inexperienced and totally lacking in skills. The prisoner had killed him within seconds. The immediate rush of coming up victorius against an enemy while locked in mortal combat had lasted for a couple of seconds. The next guard he had faced was far more skilled and he had lost abjectly. Then when the guard had raised his sword to kill him, the prisoner threw down his sword and cried for mercy. Regha, the leader of his group, had seen him down on his knees and he had cussed the prisoner out but Regha was killed and he stayed alive. That was all that mattered to him.
To everyone these days he was just a number SP-187 but his name used to be Pepe. He kept reminding himself of his name. No one ever paid him any visit. Days and nights merged for him. He had no idea of how long he had been in the prison or how much longer he needed to stay. The day he agreed to Regha's plan was the day his life essentially got over. Before that eventful day, he had a life, he had a dream, he had a life. Since that terrible attempt to kidnap the young prince of the kingdom, his life had been a blur of pain and desolation.
He thought a lot about those days when he committed himself to Regha's plan. The first time he had been told of the plan, he had laughed for he thought Regha was just pulling his leg. Regha had been running a small gang that was in small time thievery and in extortion of small time merchants. To even dream of kidnapping the young prince was both terrifying and exhilarating. The plan was actually a very simple one. The young prince was going to visit his maternal grandparents for a week. This was his second visit in three months. The young prince was fond of his grandparents but the second quick visit was to attend the birthday of a girl who lived two houses away from his grandparent's house. The last time he was here, he had befriended the cute, little girl and he had promised her that he would attend her birthday party. Accordingly the invitation was sent and it was accepted much to the delight of the little girl's father for he could now boast of hosting a royal in his house. Everyone in the city knew of the young prince's plan. Even Pepe knew of the young prince's infatuation with the little girl. It was the talk of the town. Regha planned to kidnap the prince from the party itself. The house where the party was to be hosted once belonged to Regha's family. It was sold to the current occupant some twenty years back. Regha was only a kid then but he knew of the secret passageway underneath his house. Regha's father was also a small time crook and he had prepared for a secret way to escape without getting sighted. When the house was being sold, Regha's father closed the entryway leading to the passageway and the current occupant never knew of it. It was a secret Regha was planning to utilize to pull off the biggest crime of his life.
Two days before the party, Regha took along Pepe, Ben and Parma with him to check on the passageway. They were able to remove the stones and the wooden logs that blocked their entry to the house basement without arousing any suspicion of the family living above them. The basement was being utilized as storage space and all sorts of debris and broken items were pushed inside. They navigated their way around the items on the floor and went up the stairs. Regha opened the door a bit and it creaked so loudly for Pepe that he thought that the entire street would have heard it but the corridor ahead of the door stayed empty and no one came to check the sound. Regha was able to open the door partially, enough to make a man slip in. Pepe was chosen to go outside and peep in the first room on their right. His heart throbbed loudly as he stepped in the corridor of the strange house. He tiptoed to the door of the room and then took a peek inside. The room was dark as the curtains had been pulled blocking the daylight. Pepe did what was asked of him. He put his head inside the room and then scurried to the door to the basement. Regha let Parma close the door but he grabbed Pepe and asked if he saw anyone in the room. Pepe shook his head. Regha was disappointed but he let go of Pepe and led his team back to safety. The dry run was completed without any problem. Then now waited for the day the prince would arrive.
Pepe relived that eventful day again and again. That day he could not hold still at all. He kept shivering from time to time in anticipation of what was about to happen. When Ben came to take him along, he almost swooned from excitement. Two people were waiting with a vehicle outside the western gate. They were the ones who had the responsibility to take the prince away from the city. Regha led his team to the secret passageway and then from there to the basement of the house. They could hear the excited cries of the children above them. The plan was to send Parma upstairs to grab the prince as he was the only one who could pass off as a rich man. Parma went up the steps but before he could open the door to the corridor it was kicked open. Parma was knocked off the steps and he fell on the floor of the basement with a loud groan. The next moment the guards began to pour down the steps. They had no intention of taking anyone alive. Pepe had to fight back for there was no way he could outrun the guards. In total three guards died and seven of them were injured. From Regha's team, only Pepe survived. He was beaten black and blue for they wanted to know all about the conspiracy. Even when he answered all the questions honestly they kept punishing him to divulge more about the plan. Then a bald man approached him. He had a lot of black and blue tattoos on his face. Pepe felt disgusted by the sight of the bald man. If the guards would not have held him down, he would have squirmed away and he would not have allowed the strange man to touch him. In the end he was unable to stop the inevitable. The moment the bald man touched him, he was knocked out. Later he learnt that the bald man was an Adept, someone who could hypnotize other people and make them speak truth. When he finally woke up, he found himself in a cell.
Two days later when his trial began, he learnt about how the guards had arrested every single person who was involved in the crime. The servants who were bribed by Regha were apprehended too. Then the most shocking bit of information was shared with the judges. There were two kidnappers who were caught alive but only one of them was to be tried. Pepe had watched everyone of his comrades being hacked to death. There was no way anyone could have survived the blows but the judges were very excited at the development. The talk of a new race kept coming up but no one explained anything to Pepe. Whenever he was questioned, he maintained that it was Regha's plan. He was never questioned about the dry run that he had made or about the room where he had peeked in or about the man who was seated in there. Pepe had not even shared that secret with Regha. There was no way he was going to divulge that precious bit of information with anyone.
Pepe was imprisoned for life and he never did anything to call attention to himself. He was never attacked by the inmates and never harassed by the prison authorities. He never learnt about who was the other kidnapper who survived the brutal attack of the guards. He never spoke of the dry run. He just kept quiet and spent his time doing mundane chores. No one came to visit him ever. He never expected anyone to remember him. But then yesterday everything changed.
Yesterday he got a visit from Regha's sister who was accompanied by an elite soldier. Regha's sister told him that she had been trying to contact him for months but her request to meet him were always denied. The elite soldier had sought her to ask her some questions and she had immediately put on the condition that she would answer all the questions provided she got to meet Pepe.
"What did you want to meet me for?" Pepe was alarmed and scared.
"We know that Regha tried to kidnap the prince," Regha's sister said, "and he paid the price for it. But it was not his plan. It could not be his plan. He was never that ambitious. I know or rather knew my brother quite well. Tell me who it was who was using Regha to kidnap the prince."
"I was a small fry," Pepe replied. "Regha never told me much about the plan."
"Is it true that he took you along for the dry run?" The elite soldier suddenly asked. He looked really evil but in Pepe's experience all the elite soldiers he had the misfortune to meet were more or less evil. It was like only scums were able to become elite soldiers.
Pepe wanted to say 'No' but the shock that someone knew of the dry run made him sputter. The elite soldier was not to be fooled.
"Say yes or no!" The elite soldier had hollered so loudly that Pepe's ears began to ring.
"Who was the one who stepped in the house through the door?"
"It was me." The truth slipped out.
"Who did you see?"
"What?" Pepe was now terrified. The elite soldier seemed to know a lot.
"Who did you see in there?" The soldier reached out and grabbed Pepe's collar. "The man who hired Regha was in that room. So think carefully! Who did you see there?"
Pepe took a good look at the soldier's face. During his trial, no one had bothered to ask him about the dry run.
"On one condition!" His face was too close to the soldier's. He could smell alcohol on the soldier's breath and something else, something bitter.
"You dare put a condition to me!" The soldier was enraged. The next few moments were very painful for Pepe as he was slapped repeatedly and then kneed in the groin.
"Stop it!" Regha's sister rushed to stop the senseless beating. The soldier snorted loudly but stepped away from the slumped figure of Pepe.
"If you know something, please tell him!" She implored him. Pepe fought off his tears and tried to ignore the pain. He had thought a lot about the strange man in the room and why Regha sent him to take a look at that man but after the massacre of his comrades he came to believe that the man in the room was some big shot, someone who was involved in the conspiracy. Some three months after his incarceration began, Pepe was allowed to leaf through a magazine. On the 20th page, there were three picture of attendees of the royal ball that was given in the honour of the queen. On the 2nd picture, there were seven people posing with the queen. There was a man on the left of the queen who seemed familiar to Pepe. The man's rakish smile triggered a faint memory. Pepe was transported to the corridor of the house where he had stepped from the basement. Regha had asked him to take a look in the room on their right. Pepe was frightened of being caught. His heart thumped heavily as he peeped in the room. The man was sitting on a chair, all alone. He must have heard Pepe's footsteps for he turned on his chair to look towards the door. Their eyes had met for a brief instant. The man's smile disappeared immediately. Pepe leapt back to avoid the man's gaze and rushed towards the partially open door to the basement. Regha had asked him about the man but he had lied that there had been no one in the room. His answer had disappointed Regha. After all these weeks, Pepe had a chance to know the name of the man who was waiting for someone in that room. He checked the names of the attendees who were listed just below the picture. When Pepe learnt the identity of the man, he was left stunned and terrified. If that man came to know that Pepe knew about him, it was certain that a neat little accident would be arranged in the prison that would claim Pepe's life. Now when Regha's sister implored him to share the name of that man, Pepe shivered. The name of the man was right on the tip of his tongue and he had to bit it to make himself stop from divulging it.
Regha's sister persisted, "If you don't know that man's name or if you don't want to share the name with us, tell us about his face. Tell us how tall he was or if had a moustache or if he had a scar on his face."
"Or if he was going bald!" The soldier added.
Pepe could not help but think of the man in the picture. The first time he had glanced at the face of that man, it was but for a brief moment but he had been very impressed by the handsome features of the face and the warm smile on the man's face that made his face look younger. Pepe could not guess if the man was tall or short and he could not even be sure if the man had a pencil moustache but when he saw the man in the picture, he had stared at the man's features with great fascination so that now he remembered every contours of the man's face. There was no scar on his face but the man was most definitely balding.
From the questions that had been put to him, Pepe was certain that the elite soldier had already shortened the list of his suspects to three or four names. He had come to meet Pepe just to get confirmation.
"Tell me who sang!" Pepe got up on his feet. "And I will tell you all that I know."
"Still trying to act smart with me!" The soldier had smirked.
"Who told you about the dry run? Regha, Ben and Parma are dead. So who talked about it?"
The soldier grabbed Pepe's neck and pulled him closer. Then he whisperd in his ears the one name that made no sense to Pepe.
The word echoed in Pepe's head. When Parma was kicked on the top of the steps, he had fallen on the floor next to Ben. Pepe had noticed that. Then when the guards jumped down at them, Ben was still trying to help Parma stand up. One of the guards had thrust his sword in Ben's guts and while Ben was still slumping to the ground some other guard had hit Ben's head with a hammer. That was all Pepe could see. There was no way Ben could have been alive.
"But he died!"
"No, he didn't. People like him don't die so easily. And he didn't talk so easily either. Even the Adept failed to force him to spill his secrets. It took us four months before we were able to make him talk. He told us about the dry run. He told us about you being sent by Regha to spy on the man who was the brains of the operation to kidnap the young prince. Regha was contacted by a guard with the details of the job to be done but he wanted to know the man behind the curtains who was pulling all the strings. You were not supposed to do the dry run. You were supposed to arrive directly on the day of the party but Regha's curiosity got the better of him. The guard who gave the job to Regha had let it slip that his master was going to be present in the house two days before the party. Regha bribed the servants of the house but all he could find was that the man had arrived all cloaked up so that his face could not be seen and that the man was resting on the ground floor in an empty room where even the servants were forbidden to enter. That room would be the first one on the right when you come up from the basement. Regha then thought of the dry run and dragged you all along with him. He did not dare present himself at the door of the room so he sent you. He believed that the man in the room would mistake you for a servant and ignore your impertinence. But you know what! The man noticed you and was alarmed for he had given express instruction to not allow anyone else to come to that room. He was awaiting the arrival of his co-conspirator. If you would have been delayed by another 20 minutes, you would have seen both the conspirators together. But it was not meant to be! Still you managed to take a look at the man who was the chief conspirator. The entire plan was ruined for him. He could not dare allow the plan to go ahead for if the plan were successful and the prince kidnapped, the entire gang of Regha would scatter to different parts of the kingdom to avoid capture and then he would never get the chance to silence the man who saw him in that room. So each and every one of Regha's gang was to be killed. Accordingly, an anonymous tip was shared with the palace guards and you were all slaughtered. Well, Regha was stupid to even arrive at the house to capture the prince when he had already managed to spook the chief conspirator."
Pepe's breath was knocked out of his body. It was all his doing. He had lied to Regha that he saw no one in the room. Perhaps Regha never wanted to kidnap the prince. Perhaps he just wanted to know the identity of the chief conspirator and blackmail him.
"How do you know so much?" Regha's sister looked aghast.
"Oops! I forgot you were here!" The elite soldier grimaced.
"But you know everything now!" Pepe groaned.
"Everything except for the identity of the chief conspirator. He played his cards really well. He hid among the guests in plain sight. There were five people who could be the conspirator that we were looking for. All of them are close to the royal family. Touching anyone without proof would be tantamount to signing one's suicide note. So we needed to be sure of our facts. We interrogated the servants and came to know about the man who was escorted to the room but no one could give us any clue to that man's identity. Now we have found you. Now we know that you looked in that room and you saw that man. Even if you lie to us, we will send an Adept to make you speak the truth. If you want to avoid the unpleasantness, you can confide in me now or you can wait for a meeting with an Adept."
Pepe shivered uncontrollably. After his previous meeting with the Adept, he had been left traumatized for days. He had dry heaved for three days and was unable to sleep for a week. The sinister presence of the Adept seemed to accompany him whereever he went. It had been harrowing to say the least. He did not want to meet another Adept. He whispered the name of the man to the elite soldier who nodded once.
"He was our suspect no 2!" He grinned.
Pepe was dragged back to his cell where he waited for further news. The only news that came to him was that the elite soldier was killed in a duel and that Regha's sister was murdered soon after the duel. The news depressed him. His secret stayed safe. The chief conspirator of the plot to kidnap the young prince was the first cousin of the king, the son of the king's eldest brother. He was the king's best friend and the uncle of the young prince he planned to kidnap. He was still roaming free while Regha's entire team was massacred to keep his identity safe. The prisoner shook his head sadly. He could take his life to atone for his mistake of lying to Regha but his death would bury his secret forever. He decided to wait for the time when he would be able to reveal his secret. It would be a long and lonely vigil but he had all the time in the world.
--Author's note -- this story is related to the events depicted in The Elite Problem. Even if the reader has not read that story, one should be able to enjoy this story.