Frankie Fey

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 43


Shiv, still in his hated sari, kept up easily despite his thin sandals. By unspoken agreement he and Frankie pretended not to be interested in each other. Only the fat Englishman puffed and grunted like a stuck pig most of the way and began to lag behind. But by the time the bags were tied firmly on the roof of the waiting Jeep, he staggered across and collapsed onto the front passenger seat. The porters were paid and disappeared. Then Michael and Lu sat on the comfortable rear seats while Frankie and Shiv perched on the hard jump seats with little leg room and nothing to hold on to as they bounced, twisted, and swayed back to Lachung, over passes, down into valleys, zigzagging across ridges then along the valley to bypass Gangtok, followed by more zigzags down hill at what seemed breakneck speed until the road became straighter and smoother and they made up time, arriving just after midnight at Bagdogra airport.

The driver, who had not spoken a word the entire trip, continued about half a kilometre past the main airport building, then unloaded the gear near a neatly painted hangar and office; the terminal of "Three Brothers Airline" according to an elaborately painted sign. He drove away and two porters loaded the luggage into a small commercial jet that would take them to Kolkata. But not for three more hours. The pilot had to wait for a parcel. One of the porters ran back to the main building, returning with tea and fried pastries filled with vegetables that they downed like starving men.

The parcel arrived; they boarded the plane and zipped into the air like a leaf in the wind. Day was breaking as they flew over Kolkata. Frankie peered out the window, astonished to see that as well as the great Hooghly River there were also vast sheets of water to the east of the enormous city. Lakes and ponds seemingly everywhere. Michael, who was looking more cheerful than earlier, explained they were sewage treatment and fish farms. The city was huge, flowing over both sides of the river, yet within it there seemed to be almost as much wild land as urban. And it was so flat.

'Kolkata was built on what was pretty much a swamp,' Michael explained. 'So it's hot and sweaty during monsoons. And when the seas rise it'll probably go under, like half the other ports on the planet.'

An enormous white 'V' appeared below.

'That's the airport. Fasten seatbelts everyone.'

They taxied past the modern structure to a slightly more elegant version of the "Three Brothers Airline" office, and while everyone else was unloading, Algy phoned for transport. The air was pleasantly warm and dry. After the freezing winds of Sankturi, Frankie felt himself relax for what seemed the first time for weeks. He was definitely not a cold climate man.

Two expensively inconspicuous cars arrived. Algy accompanied the luggage, including Frankie's satchel, in one car, and Shiv and Frankie again had the jump seats facing their opponents, as Frankie was starting to think of them. Would he ever see his satchel again? He tried to read road names, but only managed Jessore Road that went on for several kilometres. To the west he saw the top of a bridge before a left turn into Mahatma Ghandi Road and then right again and then left and right several times through narrower streets until he had no idea which way the river was or even the direction they'd come from.

The car stopped on a pleasant road lined with shade trees, in front of a large, colonial style building of four stories with dull yellow walls, arched windows framed in white, narrow columns each side of the main door, and a fake balustrade across the front of the roofline. It looked neat, well maintained, and according to an elegantly painted panel, was the Kool Kat Klub.

'Where are we?' Shiv asked suspiciously as everyone got out.

'Old Kolkata. One of our nightclubs.' Michael pushed open the heavy wooden doors and they entered an elegant, marble-floored foyer with dark wood panelling, an ornate polished desk, a chandelier, and paintings on the walls. A handsome, greying Indian greeted his bosses with a deep bow and apparently sincere Namaste.

'I am very pleased you have both returned safely, Mr. Michael and Mr. Lu. Allow me to be of great service.'

'Thanks, Arnold,' Lu said abruptly. 'We're glad to be back, but we haven't eaten properly for days. Give us half an hour to spruce up and then something tasty to eat.'

'Yes sir. Certainly sir.'

'Through here.'

Shiv and Frankie were herded through double doors into a larger vestibule with a wide curved staircase leading up into shadows. Lu opened another set of double doors for them to admire a reconstruction of a classic nightclub from American movies of the nineteen fifties. A small stage at one end for the orchestra and performers, a dance floor surrounded by tables and chairs, and a bar at the back. It was elegant, pleasant, and looked pricey. 'This is the mixed nightclub.'

'Very chic.'

With a terse nod Michael bundled them upstairs to a similar room. 'This is the Male-only clubroom. In India men do not feel obliged to spend every waking minute that they're not working with their wives. Here they're entertained by more… shall we say esoteric songs, dances and… other entertainment.'

Neither young man felt the urge to comment, so they were herded up to the next floor where, instead of a theatre they were confronted by what looked like a Turkish Bathhouse, decorated in the style of an Arabian Nights fantasy with arches, domed ceiling, niches, fretwork. The dressing room was sumptuous. The washroom, steam room, large pool, massage room attractively practical. Private relaxing/massage rooms down a short corridor were comfortable and dim.

'The Turkish Bath is very popular. The boys who offer erotic massage earn big bucks.'

'Why are you showing us this?'

'Just filling in time until your stuff arrives.'

This time they were almost shoved up the stairs.

'This is the top floor where staff sleep if they're required to remain on deck for twenty-four hours.'

'Where are the staff now? The place is empty apart from Arnold.'

'We open from seven in the evening till three in the morning. Staff come on at five o'clock to prepare everything. Arnold guards the door and fields questions, and Ali is usually in the kitchen making food and keeping everything in order. Take a look at the rooms, then we'll go down and eat.'

A narrow corridor that ran along the street side of the building, gave access to six rooms. At Lu's encouragement, Shiv peered into the first room only to be shoved further in and have the door slammed and locked behind him. Frankie turned to run back, but was blocked by Michael who slammed a fist into the side of his head, stunning him, then he and Lu dragged him to the next room and tossed him inside. Frankie shouted, but heard only laughter as they walked away.

A sharp pain burrowed into his brain at the spot where he'd been knuckled. He tried the door. Deadlocked. He went to the windows, threw wide the drapes and stared out in dismay. Solid bars did not prevent the windows being opened, but not even a cat could get through them. Even if it did, it was a vertical drop of four storeys to a concreted parking area. He opened the only internal door. A bathroom with a small window above head height.

He stopped, took a dozen deep breaths to slow his heartbeat, then gazed slowly around, unthinking, letting his brain observe and understand. The washbasin was porcelain and securely attached to the small vanity unit. In the cupboard beneath, nothing but a large rubber suction cup. The drains must have been blocked recently. It had a short plastic handle. No use as a weapon. Pipes were all concealed. A toothbrush holder and small plastic beaker. Showerhead securely bolted. Mirror glued to the wall. And then it clicked. The bathroom probably shared the wall with Shiv's bathroom so they could share the plumbing. He tapped on the wall. No response. He banged the handle of the suction cup on the taps and waited. Three short sharp taps replied. He repeated them, and so did Shiv. Why hadn't he learned Morse code!

A phone rang in the bedroom. He raced back. Where the fuck was it. He gazed around in panic. They mustn't come up. Ah! Beside the bed a slim handset. He pressed receive. 'Yes?'

'Do you want lunch?'

'Why have you locked us up?'

'You didn't think you were getting a free ride out of that dump in the mountains did you?'

'No, and I can pay for it, and for Shiv. And where's my satchel? I need it. My family will be worried and make enquiries!'

'If they do they'll be told about the terrible explosion up at the monastery that killed everyone.'

'You wouldn't!'

'I would.'

'But Michael, you seem a nice bloke. Please… when I've got my credit card and passport I can pay for Shiv as well and anything else I owe you. So give me my satchel and let us out of here!'

'Oh what a shame. You should have told me this earlier. You see I've made phone calls and you'll start earning your passage tonight when a nice businessman comes looking for love from a handsome young Australian surfer. I can't afford to let him down.'

'I'm not a surfer.'

'I know, but it doesn't hurt to pretend.'

'I am not a prostitute! I am not for sale! I will strangle any man who tries to come near me!'

'Look at the bed posts.'

Frankie did and realised they were solid iron. Attached to them on large rings that could be slid to any position, were handcuffs. Big, solid, real old-fashioned police handcuffs.

'If we even suspect you are not going to cooperate, we will have you cuffed to the bed in whatever position your client desires. Meanwhile, if you change your mind about food, just pick up the receiver and dial one.' Michael cut the connection.

'Fuck!' Frankie whispered. He took a deep breath. This is what Shiv had endured for months. Well, he wasn't insane; he'd never give them cause to handcuff him. But there must be something he could do. He frowned, returned to the bathroom and tapped again. Shiv's taps echoed his. He shouted, but heard only an impossibly muffled reply, so he took the plastic beaker from the toothbrush holder, pressed it against the wall and put his ear to it. Shouted something again, then listened. Something about a window. Shiv kept saying over and over what sounded like 'to the window'.

Finally he understood and he looked up at the tiny window. Too high to see out so he got a chair, and inspected. The window opened inwards and there were no bars! But his shoulders would never get through.

'Frankie, Frankie.' A whisper floated through the opening.

Frankie pulled himself higher and shoved his head through, astonished to see Shiv's head and shoulders hanging out. The windows were barely two metres apart.

'I'm coming to you,' Shiv whispered, pulling his head and shoulders back in. Half a minute later Frankie watched in alarm as a pair of bare feet poked out, followed by bare legs, then a bare bum, until Shiv was draped over the windowsill held by his left arm; his right arm stretched out towards Frankie.

'Grab my arm!' he hissed.

Frankie tried, but it was just too far. He could get one arm and one shoulder through but that wasn't quite enough. 'Hang on!' he whispered, and raced back to the bedroom, took a sheet off the bed, twisted it into a tight rope, secured one end to the shower taps then decided they weren't strong enough, and if they broke the place would be flooded and they wouldn't have time to plan anything. So he wrapped the sheet around his chest under his armpits and put the rest and one arm and his head out the window.

Shiv had hauled his head and shoulders back into his room and was draped over the sill to rest his arms. Someone was sure to see his naked bum soon!

'Grab the sheet with your right hand,' Frankie instructed. 'Then when you're sure you have a good grip, bring your left hand across and hold on to the sheet with both hands for dear life. You'll drop and swing around a bit, but I've got it secure here and will haul you up.'

Shiv lowered himself till he was hanging by his fingers, gave a huge grin, Frankie tossed the sheet, Shiv grabbed it with his right hand, made sure he had a good hold, then let his left hand go and just managed to hang on to the sheet as he suddenly dropped and swung roughly like a human pendulum coming to rest below Frankie's window. It took all Frankie's strength to haul the sheet up over the concrete sill and seemed to be taking forever, but in less than a minute Shiv was squeezing through the window, blood dripping from grazes on shoulders, chest, knees and feet. He hugged Frankie, who could scarcely speak from shock. Shiv appeared unfazed.

'How did you dare?' Frankie asked.

Shiv shrugged. 'I know those men. They've been abusing me for five months. I would never be allowed to leave. They would have made a fortune having me fucked by all the ugly bastards in Kolkata until I was a useless husk, then kill me. Four seconds falling then instant death seemed an excellent alternative. And there was always the chance of actually getting here. I reckon we can beat them, don't you?'

'Fuck, Shiv. You're the bravest man I've ever known. I was terrified. It was lucky you didn't give me time to think about it or I'd never have risked it.'

Shiv gave him a pat on the shoulder. 'Ok, Frankie, now for the hard bit, how do we get out of here?'

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