Chapter 1


The crack of dawn  revealed the eastern mountains as a black silhouette. Ankle deep snow  in the flatlands reflected the orange sunrise. The sky was clear, the  December morning bitterly cold. The air was sharp to the nostrils and  raw in the lungs.

There  were three of them in single file. Shackled hand and foot they hobbled  through the snow like zombies in green quilted coats, faded and  threadbare castoffs. Heads were hatless, nose and ears red. Bare hands  were muffed into the opposite sleeves. Face and bodies were swollen,  eyes bloodshot, minds drained—fates sealed.

The  shortest prisoner was in front, the oldest man in the middle followed  by the tallest and youngest of the three, Stanislaus Sedecki. Four armed  guards, two on each side, accompanied them.

It was the beginning of their fourth day and they had just been fed. 

Bent  over bowls of mushy rice they had talked quietly as they ate and agreed  that one of two things would happen: Today would be another day of the  torture and terror their minds and bodies could no longer handle, or  they were about to be executed. 

Each  wore a bandage on one hand. With his good hand, the small man fingered  the last morsel from his bowl and their whispering came to an end. “I  can’t take any more, do you understand me? I can’t.  I don’t think you two can either.” He raised his swollen eyes and  uttered his final words. “If escape is impossible then death will be a  blessing.” he paused, “I will not be tied to a stake and shot like a  dog.” 

The other two men stared vacantly at their empty bowls in silent acquiescence.

Now,  as they were being led across an open area of polluted snow, the small  man began to cough. Up ahead white exhaust vapors floated lazily in the  air from an idling truck. There was no other activity near them. As they  neared the vehicle the small man in the lead coughed more vigorously. 
Sedecki clenched his teeth. His eyes became misty. During breakfast his friend had said, That’s what they do with spies you know, they shoot them.  He knew his friend was right. When the three of them had no more to  give, when the excruciating torture ended, if it ever did, they would be  shot regardless. 

Through  watery eyes his squalid surroundings now seemed to change. These  sullied environs now appeared to him most glorious. The bleak mountains  seemed striking, majestic. Dirty snow suddenly became pristine. The air  smelled cleaner, even invigorating. But then the horrific, unspoken  decision they had made overwhelmed him. Freezing tears began to sting  his cheeks. Fragments of his young life that flashed through his mind  like a surrealistic dream were abruptly replaced by the existing  nightmare. 

Abruptly  the detail stopped. The dream stopped. The small man in front was bent  double, coughing profusely. The first guard on his right reached down to  jerk him up. Suddenly the little man screamed and lunged straight up at  the guard. The middle prisoner leaped on the guard to his left, driving  him backwards and down. 

    In  the same instant Sedecki instinctively sprang to his right and threw  his manacled hands over the head of the third guard. They went down in a  tangle of arms and legs, rolling twice in the snow. He came up  straddling the guard’s back with the chain of his wrist shackles under  the man’s neck. With both hands on the back of the soldier’s head he  applied a death-choke then clamped his teeth together and closed his  eyes—waiting for the bullet he knew was coming.