CHAPTER 21: GROETHUIS AND THE GOLDEN SCORPION
He lay on the slab as still as a gutted fish. His arms were bound. Strong, wiry cords clasped him to the hard bed, and he could not stir an inch. There was no need for binding. He was broken, his bones shattered, his skin seared red. With every breath he took he saw himself in his mind’s eye, tiny and naked, climbing a great mountain of black razor rock. Everything burned. There was not a cell of skin or speck of bone, it seemed, that did not cry out in pain.
He lay in agony. And he waited.
At times he would drift asleep, and then he would be woken by voices. Two dark figures would stand over his bed and talk in whispered tones , like great black clouds growling thunder at each other.
A harsh white light, of a kind Thomas had never seen before, hung from the ceiling and blinded him so that he could not make out their faces, and was forced to listen.
The first voice was silky and vile, it’s tones clipped like rose buds, all wormy and sly and it made him shiver when he heard it.
The second voice was cold, hard and deep. The voice of a killer. He could tell that much. He could tell simply from the way his fingers tried to form fists when he heard it.
“This is him?” said the killer’s voice.
“The one and only.”
“He doesn’t look tough. He doesn’t look tough at all. I could take him.”
“Of that I have no doubt. He’s unconscious, is suffering from second degree burns, has a punctured lung and fifteen broken bones.”
“You patch him up, and I’ll take him.”
“You’ll do no such thing. The master has made it very clear. We must guard this one with our lives.”
“Why? He’s just some thug. We’ve got thons of tugs.”
“Tons of thugs.”
“Indeed. But apparently this one is different. Don’t look at me that way. I don’t know any more than you do. He did not deign to tell me. We are both just servants.”
“Yes. But you’re the super-genius servant. I’m just the beating-hell-outta-people servant. If he told anybody, he told you.”
“He didn’t tell me, Cole.”
“Don’t call me that. That’s not my name anymore.”
“”Golden Scorpion”? Golden Scorpion, seriously, what are we, children?”
“That’s the name, get used to it.”
“Alright, alright. Golden Scorpion it is.”
“How did he get like this anyway?”
“Apparently, he was foolish enough to pick a fight with a Temporal Adept.”
“This guy took on a Temporal? Well he’s got guts, anyway. ”
“Guts, a death wish, terminal stupidity, something like that…”
“I could take a Temporal.”
“No you couldn’t.”
“You could defeat someone who can reduce time to 0.009 seconds per second?”
“He can only slow time if he’s alive, right?”
“He wouldn’t be.”
“Ah. Well, as you can see this one still needs a lot of work. The bones will need to be set, new skin cloned to cover the burns and so on. Tell the master he should be ready in two or three days.”
As he lay on the cold operating table, bloodied and broken, Thomas listened to the cold voices echoing over his head. And like a snake coiled in the grass, he waited for his moment to strike.
The one called Cole, or Golden Scorpion, or whoever, did not return again and Thomas was left in the dark room with Groethuis for many days. He still had no idea what his captor looked like.
Now that he had become more accustomed to the light he would sometimes catch a glimpse of pale, clammy skin or would see a few strands of lank, dark brown hair plastered to an oval skull. Groethuis remained a jigsaw, a weird jutting portrait of glimpsed features and grey shadows. Occasionally he would feel the white hot prick of a needle entering his vein, and then there would be velvet black for hours and hours. When he awoke, there would be long, thin pink scars on his legs and chest, and bones that had been smashed or cracked would be whole again, or a patch of skin that had been scorched red would be brown and smooth as the day he was born. It greatly disturbed him, this silent, shadowed rebuilding of his flesh and bone. He felt he was being put back together, perhaps into something very different from what he once was. This man, Groethuis, was no doctor. He seemed more like a sculptor, an expert of flesh and bone who regarded his medium like an artist regarded clay or paint. Simply something to be used as he saw fit.
He would sometimes feel thin, long fingers probing his legs and ribs, testing the bone, and when he uncovered a weakness or a fracture that caused Thomas to grunt in pain, Groethuis would give a little hiss of satisfaction as if he had discovered a small stash of hidden gold .
It was quite some time before Thomas realised that he could not speak.
“You needn’t worry.” he heard Groethuis purr as his mouth gaped wide, desperately trying to produce even the smallest word or syllable “I’ve deactivated your vocal cords. I dislike talking to my patients, you understand. Don‘t be alarmed. If there is any sudden change in your condition my devices will alert me instantly. I assure you. You’re in good hands.”
This was a nightmare, Thomas screamed silently to himself. This man could turn his voice off at a whim? What doctor could do that? Was he a witch or…
He felt his stomach go cold.
How did he get here?
Isabella and the Hangman’s daughter, he had been hunting them, dogging them over field and road, running them down.
He had had them cornered, they were dead, their blood was practically in the air and on the walls when…
That old woman…
There had been a fight, he had been beaten.
No. True. It had happened. And then?
White pain. Death and the trumpets of heaven, a thunder clap. Black. Silence.
He was dead. He was in Hell. This Groethuis, who could turn off his voice at will, who could repair his body like magic, mend his bones and heal his scorched skin…
This Groethuis was the Devil.
The thought struck him how many people he knew he was likely to meet down here.
He tensed in readiness. It was about time he began working towards his escape. That would mean getting past Groethuis
To kill the Devil. Now wouldn’t that be something to brag about?
Already, he had a plan on how to do it.
The ability to dislocate one’s own arm is rare and painful, but for the man who can it has great advantages. For example, most men who are bound tightly to a gurney would have little chance of escape provided the cords were of good quality (they were) and fastened tightly (couldn’t have been tighter ). But a man who can dislocate his own arm has a much better chance of getting at least one arm free.
This of course will do him very little good if he’s still bound to the gurney and has no way of cutting the cords.
It does, however, do him a great deal of good if the doctor who has been operating on him has been stupid enough to leave a tray of razor sharp scalpels by the gurney.
As he hid the scalpel under his hand and jolted his arm back in it’s socket with a grunt of pain, Thomas smiled quietly to himself.
The Devil was making it too easy.
“And how are we feeling this morning?” he heard Groethuis purring over his head.
Very well, thank you, Thomas thought. Today I’m going to kill you. How are you today Groethuis?
“I have good news for you today, Monsieur Hieronimo…”
You know my name? Thomas thought. Ah but of course you do. I would say I’ve been on your lists for quite some time, haven’t I?
“…all your injuries have been fully treated and you are now in the very peak of physical health.” Groethuis continued.
No fun torturing them when they’re already injured, isn’t that so? Yes I know, I know you better than you might think sir, Thomas thought grimly.
“So. The master will want to speak with you. You have much to discuss. I’m sure you are very curious as to where you are.”
Master? Ah yes, he had heard mention of a master before, hadn’t he? When Groethuis had been talking to Cole, or the Golden Scorpion. Perhaps Groethuis was not the Devil himself, merely a lower demon. A lackey. A pity, he would have liked to kill the Devil. Ah well. It’s not as if anyone would have believed him anyway. Right, best to get going.
He began to energetically mouth silent words, as if he had something terribly urgent to communicate. His mouth felt dry and sticky. Perhaps it was the fact that he hadn’t tried to say anything in days that piqued Groethuis interest, as Thomas felt something cold and metal pressed against his throat, and then a tightness that had been there suddenly melt away. And he felt that he could speak again.
Groethuis leaned in and for the first time Thomas saw his face.
If Groethuis was a demon, then he was a species of demon that uncannily resembled a man in his early fifties with clammy pale skin, large eyes that were a sickly blue and a thin mouth of green, stained teeth. His hair was the colour of cac and plastered to his scalp with sweat, even though the room was quite cold.
“Ah, do we have a question, Monsieur Hieronimo?” he asked, and his voice was so smug it was all Thomas could do not to bare his teeth in disgust. His breath smelt antiseptic and not quite alive.
“Loooo…” his voice box creaked like an old accordion left in the attic for a decade. He tried again
“Looook…” he coughed and hacked.
Groethuis sneered “When you’re ready, Monsieur Hieronimo, I have all the time in the world.”
Thomas gave the razor grin.
“Look down.” he said simply.
Groethuis looked down just in time to see the scalpel appear in Thomas’ hand and fly into his chest like a steel breath.
Dislocate the shoulder, extricate the arm, cut the bonds with the scalpel, push the body to the floor and get to his feet after a few attempts.
Nothing simpler. Now came the hard part.