An Excerpt from Pentadaktylos -
"An Ambulance Ride To Hell."
Explanation: It is October 1958 and Lt. Colonel Gregory Sommerville is back on the strife-torn Island of Cyprus and is searching for the woman he loved when he was a junior officer in 1940.
"Come on you two," cried the doctor to Reynolds and Sommerville. The ambulance interior was dimly lit and the heavy stench of the injured man, medication and the sight of dried blood on the victim's clothes, made Sommerville feel nauseous. Tsangarides, his face and arms a peculiar bloodless gray, groaned frequently as the vehicle shook as it passed over ruts in the dusty track before climbing onto the main road. Sommerville perched himself on the edge of the empty stretcher rack on the opposite side of the ambulance while Reynolds stood in the gangway, and held onto a roof rack. The doctor sat by Tsangarides and frequently expressed amazement that the man was still alive. "Has he said anything at all?" asked Sommerville hopefully.
"Nothing that makes sense or could be deciphered," cried the doctor over the engine sounds. "He keeps on slipping into a coma and when he regains consciousness he mutters in some gibberish Greek."
The ambulance turned onto the main road leading to Kyrenia.
"Back at the wreckage," said the doctor, "he muttered something with unusual consistency in English."
"What was it?" said Reynolds. "Perhaps he was talking about the people we're after."
The doctor shook his head. "Unless one of his attackers had a name like an English county, you're way out. It sounded like Somerset. I spent much of my early years exploring the moors of Somerset. I could tell you a fascinating story about Dunkery Beacon…"
"What was the word? Somerset?" Reynolds was impatient.
The doctor nodded. "Yes it sounded like Somerset, but I don't see how a Cypriot…"
"Try Sommerville," suggested Reynolds quickly. "This is Colonel Sommerville. He met this man just recently."
Sommerville, tense and sharply interested, leaned forward, anxious to get to the man.
"Sommerville! Yes that's it. Sommerville."
Sommerville slipped off the stretcher rack and looked down at the Greek Cypriot's white face, now grotesque because the ugly streaks of blood from the head wound had dried a dull black.
"Tsangarides," he called out. "Loucas…it's me, Sommerville. "For God's sake what do you know? Where is she?"
The doctor and Reynolds grabbed Sommerville's arms.
"Come off it, Greg," urged the CID man. "Be patient. He's a critically sick fellow."
Sommerville, his face flushed red with anger, ignored Reynolds. "Tsangarides, you bastard! Where is she? Where is Eleni?"
"Colonel," snapped the doctor, "this man is in my care."
"A minute!" cried Sommerville desperately. "Just one minute."
"Look! He's opened his eyes. He's opened his eyes." Sommerville grinned with jubilation. "Tsangarides, for God's sake tell me…"
"Colonel, please!" The medical officer tried to push him away.
'Leave me with him. You don't understand," snarled Sommerville, perspiration running freely down his angry and desperate face. "Tsangarides, for Christ's sake, say something. Please!"
Slowly, as if some invisible hands and strings were manipulating the face of a wooden puppet, Tsangarides grinned and the three men froze and watched as the head on the stretcher turned slowly, almost mechanically, towards them. It was a grin none of them would ever forget, the mocking grin of a man who has succumbed to the fact he is dying.
Tsangarides' eyes, deep, lifeless pools of blackness that reached nowhere and said nothing because they were two balls of matter completely devoid of emotions. Only the mouth moved and produced a grotesque mocking grin.
"Sommerville…you came." The hoarse voice struggled to make itself heard. The grin faded for a few seconds while Tsangarides mustered his fading energy.
The three men crouched to listen. Reynolds flicked open his notebook as a matter of routine.
"Eleni is alive…not well, but alive…she's been in hell because of your broken promise…she's paid the Devil a thousand times because of you," said the voice gasping for air.
Tsangarides, where is she now?" pleaded Sommerville, his hands clenched and his fists white. "You're playing with me now even in death, Tsangarides. She died, didn't she? We've searched everywhere and I'm certain she must be dead."
The grin became more pronounced. A trickle of fresh blood started oozing from the corner of the Cypriot's mouth. The doctor moved in to clean it away.
"It would be better for you, Sommerville…had she died." The air rattled in his throat. "Prepare for a shock, Sommerville…for the knowledge I give you…will drive you mad…even kill you. I hope it does."
"What are you saying, man?" snarled Sommerville. "Make sense. Where is Eleni? If you have any respect…"
Tsangarides had closed his eyes and for one ghastly moment Sommerville was sure that the Cypriot had just died with his secret untold. As the doctor moved in again, the eyes opened again and the mouth and teeth grinned once more.
"Listen…your son…" Sommerville froze. A son? The word sounded ridiculous. A mocking joke."
"Sommerville…your son…your son is Andreas Mavros. He is an EOKA fighter." He paused. "It is funny, eh? The son of an Englishman…and English officer…fighting to kill the English. He will kill you too, Sommerville. It is a promise…a promise…."
From deep inside his body came a choking, hollow gurgle. Tsangarides in his dying moments was so consumed with hatred that his tormented mind wanted to laugh but the body denied it.
Sommerville stood up and gripped the racks above his head for support. The world was twisting apart, everything was spinning round out of control like a merry-go-round, a crazy carousel! Tsangarides words were burning deeply into his brain and soul. They were scorching, agonizing welts. "Your son is Andreas Mavros."
"No! No!" Sommerville screamed at the Cypriot. "For God's sake, say you are lying."
The Cypriot said nothing. He had stopped breathing. The doctor held a stethoscope to his neck.
"He's gone," he said quietly as the ambulance swung into the hospital grounds. For Gregory Sommerville it had been an ambulance ride to hell.
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