A Tangled Web Ch. 07

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Vera could barely stand, let alone walk, but she was lifted up, grabbed by her elbows and frogmarched through the building with her feet dragging behind her, until they reached a large sumptuously decorated room where several people were sat around a large table. She barely had time to register that Xui-Li, Mei-Xing and General Chang were amongst those present before she was thrown to the floor. Bizarrely, her main concern was that she might bleed onto the carpet. However she just lay there, awaiting developments. She was vaguely aware of a pair of shoes just in front of her face.

“And this, comrades, is our spy. This… girl was directly responsible for the disaster at Nan Tung,” she heard General Chang announce from where he stood towering over her.

“What have you done to her?” she heard Xui-Li’s demand. “Why has she been treated so badly? Could you not have covered her nakedness at the very least?”

“Surely you are not concerned about the welfare of one such as this?” General Chang responded. “Were we not led to believe that your interest in this one was over?”

“Yes, yes, of course,” Xui-Li blustered and Vera could tell she was shaken. “I’m sure you only did what you felt was necessary, that you didn’t enjoy mistreating her so.”

“I did what was needed to get to the bottom of this case. I took whatever steps I felt appropriate. Maybe your concern for the girl is personal rather than humanitarian, and your professed indifference is all part of the tissue of lies that surrounds this matter. We will let the facts speak for themselves. Now, let’s see what the girl has to say.” General Chang went to one side returning with a chair, which he placed next to where Vera was sprawled. “Get up, girl, sit on this chair and tell this court your name.”

As Vera struggled to her feet General Chang reached down as if to help her but, as he did so, he was able to whisper in her ears.

“Remember, I can have you set free or sent back to the cells. Bear that in mind as you answer, it’s in your best interests to cooperate,” he hissed.

As Vera sat down her mind raced. She felt scared; she huddled forward in the chair, clamping her hands between her thighs; her physical nakedness only added to the feeling of vulnerability and a very real fear for her life and well-being. General Chang’s threats had further unnerved her; what more did he want from her, what more did she have to do to stop this world of pain? What added to the confusion were her tangled allegiances. Xui-Li had seemed sincerely genuinely shocked at her condition, even startled to see her, but wasn’t it her note that had brought her here in the first place? Why then her surprise? Furthermore, even in her battered state she had this feeling that she was but a bit player in a much larger game; did it really need all these people to interrogate a spy?

“Now then, what is your name, girl?” General Chang asked once he had got her settled.

“Vera, Vera Talisker.”

“Is it not true that you are known by another name, one that someone else gave you?”

“Madam Hong calls me Jun-Nui,” Vera said curtly.

“Jun-Nui, Truth-girl. How very appropriate. Now then, when questioned earlier you confessed to being a spy. Is that not also true?”

“Yes, but that was because I was….”

“A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice,” General Chang cut across her again.

“Why won’t you let me explain? What’s all this about?” A little spark of defiance blazed within Vera.

“We’re not interested in your opinions, your excuses or your attempts to justify yourself, we just want the simple unadorned truth, and, as to what this is all about, I have no need to explain myself to one such as you. It’s better that you don’t know, that way you won’t know what lies to invent,” General Chang snapped. “We only want the unadorned truth and the truth is that you are a spy. Once again I ask is this not true?”

“Yes.” The defiant spark died and Vera’s head dropped again.

“Yes, what? Speak clearly and address the court,” General Chang demanded.

“Yes, yes Sir, I’m a spy,” Vera confessed.

“A spy must have a master, someone she reports to and your master is Colonel Fortesque, commander in chef of the British forces here. Is that not also the truth?”

Hurt and confused Vera could only nod.

Triumphantly General Chang turned to the council. “This girl before you is a self-confessed spy who deals in secrets, our secrets, and takes them to her lord and master, Colonel Fortesque, the leader of our hated foes. However a spy is nothing without secrets to reveal. Let us see what she has to say on that matter.”

“So where do you get the secrets that are your stock in trade?” General Chang turned back to Vera “You go to that house of ill repute, the Pussy Cat Club, don’t you?”

“Yes, Sir, I go to the Pussy Cat Club.”

“The Pussy Cat Club is a den of iniquity located in the docklands area, pandering to the deviant tastes of the sort of women who prefer the company of other women, rather than that of a man as is right and proper.” Again illegal bahis General Chang explained things to the court. “Apparently some of our number, some, perhaps, who should know better, are accustomed to meeting there. Tell us, girl, tell the court, who was it that you met there?”

“Madam Hong, I met Madam Hong, but you know that.”

“Indeed, in fact it was Madam Hong who first invited you into the club; without her you would have been stuck outside, was that not so?”

“Yes, but….” Vera started to explain but General Chang once again cut her short.

“And then, having invited you inside, she subjected you to the most appalling abuse, she stripped you naked and paraded you about in front of everybody, forcing you to fight in the pit and humiliating you in front of all and sundry before throwing you out naked into the gutter; is that not so?” General Chang’s questions were gently insistent and, in response, this time Vera merely nodded.

“So, your first visit didn’t go so well, and most young ladies would have run away with their tail between her legs but not you; despite this cruelty, this depravity, this degradation, you returned for more. Why was that? Why, when they’d been humiliated so, why would anyone possibly even consider going back? You returned because you were ordered to, because Colonel Fortesque was demanding it.”

“Yes, I’d lose my job if I didn’t….”

“Your job? Your job as a spy which was to get real intelligence, secrets that could damage us,” General Chang prompted.

Vera simply nodded.

“So, despite the abuse, despite the humiliations, you were so desperate to find a way into our inner circle that you came back for more and when you did return Madam Hong took you somewhere else, to a house where you were used as a concubine.”

“At first I was at the club but later I was taken to a house, a house where….” Vera wasn’t sure what to say, how to describe what had been done to her.

“A house where you were used as a concubine,” General Chang repeated.

“A concubine?” Vera queried.

“Yes, a concubine, a woman kept for purely sexual purposes. You were forced to work as a slave and then to offer your body for another’s erotic pleasure. Surely that is what happened; how then were you not treated as a concubine? Tell us, who was it that forced you to disgrace yourself like this?”

“It was Xui-Li… err… Madam Hong. But it wasn’t like that. It was….” Vera felt she had to explain. General Chang was putting everything in the worst possible light.

“It was exactly like that!” General Chang roared. “You were treated as a servant, serving her meals as if the lowliest kitchen maid. And, when that was over, she abused you for her own erotic pleasure? Do not try to hide the truth, Miss Talisker. Was it not as I said?”

“Yes, but….” Vera tried again to explain.

“Yes, or no, Miss Talisker, yes or no.”

“Yes,” Vera replied with a sigh.

“So Madam Hong took you to her house, used you as her slave and then performed unnatural acts upon you,” General Chang continued. “And all the time you were allowing this because you were spying for Colonel Fortesque, because it enabled you to get close to our inner circle. Such bravery to put up with such perversion; you must have earned yourself a hatful of medals. And then, on the next occasion, this time you didn’t need to find a way in, you were actually invited, is that not so?”

“Invited…” Vera was non-plussed for a second or two until she remembered the note. “Yes, I guess you could call it that.”

“I say that you were invited because that is what it was. You were taken on a pleasure cruise, a cruise to a refugee camp. I saw you there and expressed my concern only to be brushed aside. Did Madam Hong at any point try to hide the location of the camp, or, for that matter, the name of the ship you sailed on?”

“No, why would she?”

“Why indeed. And while you were on the ship, you slept in her cabin, did you not?”

“Yes, I was in Madam Hong’s cabin,” Vera replied.

“But let us be more specific. It wasn’t just her cabin you shared but her bed as well. You spent the night as her whore pandering to her whims.”

“I was her lover, not her whore!” Vera almost shouted. She felt awful. General Chang was turning what she shared with Xui-Li into something dirty and distasteful. She looked up at Xui-Li and, for a moment, their eyes met. “I was her lover,” Vera repeated.

“Her lover, Miss Talisker? Do you so freely admit your depravity? That a woman should lie down with another is distasteful enough but I’m sure that was not the full extent of the night’s perversity; were you not also forced into other unnatural acts?”

“I… Please… I can’t say.” Vera stuttered.

“Come now, I can understand your reticence at speaking of such things but it’s a little late for modesty and there’s no need to be shy, we’re only wanting to get to the truth. After all, everyone here knows what sort of depravity Madam Hong likes; we all know how she treats her whores; how she illegal bahis siteleri likes to make them suffer. What form did your punishment take?” General Chang sounded quite gentle, caring.

“I cannot say,” Vera almost whispered.

“Speak louder, let the whole court hear,” General Chang commanded.

“I cannot say,” Vera repeated. She again took the opportunity to glance up at Xui-Li who sat open mouthed with a look of deep concern on her face.

“You cannot say. The humiliations she put you through were so vile that you cannot repeat them. You poor thing, what ignominies you had to go through, how low you had to stoop to get the information you needed so much. What information could be worth such a sacrifice, what would entice you to debase yourself like that? It must have been something special; you would hardly have let yourself be treated so badly for mere tittle-tattle. How about troop movements? That surely would please your masters; that might justify what you put yourself through.”

“Troop movements… I… I suppose so but I didn’t….”

“Oh, but I know very well that you did. It was you that wrote the report, the report, which fell into our hands tragically late, the report which told Colonel Fortesque where to find our troops, the report which led him straight to Nan Tung. I know this is so, I only ask that you confirm it to the council.”

“Nan Tung? But I….”

“Again a simple yes or no will suffice. After all, we can hardly blame you for doing your job. Now, once again, it was you who told the Colonel where to find our troops.”

“Yes, but….”

“So, you don’t try to deny it. Once more, please confirm this for the council. Did you tell Colonel Fortesque about our troop movements in Nan Tung?”

“Yes, I did, but let me explain.” Vera started. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Xui-Li’s horrified expression and she realised that this was the question that General Chang had been working towards all the time. “I made it up.”

“You made it up? Do you really expect this council to believe that a report, which pinpointed our troops with devastating accuracy, which directly led to the death and capture of so many, that this report was a fabrication. How could it have been ‘made up’ when it was so complete in all its detail? How dare you lie to this court?”

“But I did, I made it up, I promise you I made it up….” Vera said desperately.

“Enough!” General Chang once again cut across any chance of further explanation before turning to the court. “We need hear no more; by her own lips this English whore confesses her guilt. This is the spy who sold our secrets; this is the source of our current woes. We’ve heard quite enough from her. Guards!”

Before the startled Vera could say any more the guards stepped forward, manhandled her to the side of the room and a hand was clamped over her mouth. General Chang picked up the chair she had been sitting on from where it had fallen and stepped forward to address the court.

“And there you have it, comrades. There you have the confession of the spy who wormed her way into our midst and, single-handedly, brought tragedy to our troops. Without this one and her wickedness a whole brigade would still be living and fighting, fighting for our cause. Do not for one moment be misled by her apparent meekness, young innocence is her cleverest disguise. With ruthless determination she found a weakness and used it, used it in an attempt to destroy us from within. Were it not for Mei-Xing’s vigilance, her unceasing watchfulness, it could have been far worse; we could have all fallen.

“But just as important as unmasking the spy is unmasking the weakness she exploited. Without this weakness she would have been impotent, left knocking on the door unable to enter. No, it didn’t take long for this one to find a way in, a weakness in our armour, a failing she could exploit. Perhaps the question should be not what is our weakness but who is our weakness? Who was it that allowed this serpent into our camp, not just allowed it in but invited it in? The whore’s testimony has made that clear and has pointed to exactly where the weakness lies, just whose depravity she was able to exploit, just who was so blinded to common sense that she led us into jeopardy, who has let her unnatural appetites override any sense of loyalty, any sense of propriety and has thus endangered us all?”

“General Chang!” Xui-Li cut in, unable to stay quiet any longer. “If you’re going to make such scandalous accusations….”

“Oh, yes, you know to whom I’m referring but, Madam, you will be quiet, you will let me have my say. That is my right as a member of the council,” General Chang snarled before continuing. “Now, we must pass judgement and, when it comes to passing that judgement, do not let any sense of loyalty mislead you. Much as we have been indebted to Madam Hong in the past we should not let that blind us to what we have before us now. We know she invited this spy into our midst, we know that, even when this was unmasked, she not only continued canlı bahis siteleri to invite the spy in but led her ever closer to our inner secrets. Her unnatural desires overrode any sense of right or wrong, blinded her to all but her basest cravings. For far too long we have excused her abhorrent appetites because it was in our interests to do so but now we find that it was exactly these appetites which have led us into danger. For far too long we have turned a blind eye but now it has to stop.

“For, just as this spy is guilty, condemned by her very own words, so too is Madam Hong guilty, guilty of the deaths of so many of our brave boys, guilty of betrayal, guilty of treason. Perverted by her filthy desires she paid her whore with our secrets and our poor troops paid the price.”

Xui-Li stood up as if to give rebuttal but, acting on some pre-arranged signal, two guards stepped forward and grabbed her, holding her tight and, as with Vera, her startled cries were muffled by a hand across her mouth. The two women, Vera and Xui-Li, stared at each other as the plot against them was finally sprung. There was so much to say, so much to explain, so much to sort out but the situation was out of their control. Desperate unspoken messages had to be conveyed with only a look and Xui-Li’s eyes spoke clearly, her concern was all for Vera, not for herself.

“Treason and espionage, the case against Madam Hong and her whore is clear cut and there can be only one outcome.” General Chang again addressed the council. “Death by firing squad; that is what our law lays down and that is what is fair and just. We must rid ourselves of these vermin, we must cut the cancer from our midst; all those in favour say Aye!”

There was a mixed reaction from the room, but Mei-Xing and General Chang had done their work well. The enthusiasm of their supporters swamped the doubts of the others who, quickly seeing which way the land lay, were soon joining in. Xui-Li tried to remonstrate but, with the guard’s hand clamped over her mouth, her muffled protests went unheard.

“So be it!” General Chang announced triumphantly. “The answer is clear, the council is unanimous. Guards, take them away and throw them in the cells. I will arrange for a firing squad to be ready at dawn.”

With her wrists still fastened before her Vera was led away back down to the cellars and thrown, almost literally, into a cell. There was no furniture, merely the cold stone walls of an empty room, and the sole light source was from a barred window high up in the wall. Shivering from a mixture of fear and cold she curled up in a ball in the corner and tried to make herself comfortable. The aches and pains, both inside and out, were hard enough to bear and all the time her mind whirred as she thought through what had transpired. Even to her, it was obvious that she had witnessed some sort of coup and that General Chang had effectively taken over. By twisting and distorting the evidence he had completely framed her and used her as an excuse to oust Xui-Li but, quite frankly, that was immaterial now. She was condemned to be shot in the morning. What had started as a bit of a lark was now ending in disgrace and failure and she had but a few hours left to live.

But the image that she really couldn’t shift, that kept overriding all other thoughts, was the look in Xui-Li’s face as they had stared at each other as the plot had been sprung. Was it only a few days ago that Xui-Li had disowned her, had cast her out; the woman who had stared back at her had stared with care and compassion, possibly even love. Vera’s heart ached with a need to find out, to know how Xui-Li felt. For all the lies and deceptions that General Chang had unleashed upon them the only truth that Vera wished to uncover was the truth within Xui-Li’s heart.

But that would never happen, she would go to her grave never knowing and that was what hurt the most.

For hour upon lonely sleepless hour she had only these hurts to occupy her mind and she was far gone in a pit of misery when, with a cold grey light filtering in through the window, she heard the door being unlocked. With a fearful thought of ‘this is it’ she looked up to see Mei-Xing standing there.

“Stand up and behave yourself and you might just live,” she said shortly. “Chang wants you shot and if we don’t get a move on the guards will be here soon. On the other hand he’s had everything his own way and it’s about time I had part of the action. Here, put this on.”

A serving girl who had been standing behind Mei-Xing stepped forward and held out a shapeless woollen garment which, when unravelled, turned out to be a hooded cloak. In a daze Vera got to her feet, wondering what this all meant. She hardly saw Mei-Xing as a friend. After all she had been there during her torture and hadn’t raised a finger to stop it, but, if this meant that she got to live beyond the morning, then what did she have to lose? Mei-Xing took the cloak from the girl and placed it over Vera’s shoulders, raising the hood, which completely covered her head; noticeably she did not unfasten the cuffs holding Vera’s wrists together but simply wrapped the cloak around her, letting the empty sleeves hang free. The cloak was tied together at the front with a belt so it completely covered her, enveloping her, making her anonymous.

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