August 18, 1940
We're all dead men anyway, Jack figured. Just as soon die attempting to escape as rotting in this filthy prison.
He sat propped in a corner of the ten-meter-square concrete cell, his bony knees hugged to his chest as he watched the morning light in a tiny window high up on the damp wall change from dirty gray to the faintest pink.
For two years he had been watching that light high up in the cells; for two miserable years he had held on to hope by the fact of the dawn. Ever since being captured by Franco's men at the Battle of San Miguel, Jack had kept his inner light alive, kept believing. He had withstood torture, hunger, and cold by keeping one thought in his mind: there would come a day of reckoning.
Today was that day.
Dominguez lay next to him. Rolling onto his side, the Spaniard awoke with a moan and looked up at the window.
"Dawn soon," he said in Spanish to Jack Kavanagh.
"You really think it will work, Irish?"
In the dim light, Jack could just make out Dominguez's features: his face was a mass of bruises and broken bones with the whorled red pit of a gouged-out eye punctuating it.
"The plan will work," Jack said, stretching out his legs.
But he wasn't so sure. They hardly had a plan at all, not compared to the intricate battle strategies that Jack had devised for the IRA during the fight for Irish independence in the twenties. He scratched at the lice which covered his body under the gray hopsacking of the prison uniform and watched the dawn light some more, putting all other thoughts out of his mind, concentrating on one thing and one thing only: revenge.
Minutes later the other men in the cell were stirring; daylight began to break harsh and clear through the tiny window above their heads. From the distance came the gentle cooing of the pigeons, the sound of their scratching on the roof overhead.
"The others are sure of the procedure?" Jack asked Dominguez.
"It is as we practiced it. They will wait for you to make the first move."
"That is essential," Jack said.
"We are not professional soldiers such as you, Irish. We are only simple workingmen who love our country. But we will know how to die if it comes to that. We will do as you say."
Jack could feel the hard edge of Dominguez's comments.
"Jack looked into Dominguez's face.
"Thank you, Irish. Whatever happens today, you have given us the will to become men once more. You are truly one of us."
The clicking of boots on flagstone echoed down the long hallway outside their door. All eyes turned to Jack, and he smiled at them.
"Today, comrades," he said. "Freedom today or die trying."
A nodding of heads, murmured assents. One man began praying until Dominguez hissed: "Enough with that. Keep your prayers to yourself. God will not be sufficient help for you today."
The footsteps drew closer. Jack knew he'd been right. The guards were coming to their cell today. Not a plan at all, he thought. Just blind hope.
Jack would feign a breakdown at the execution ground today. He'd crawl and beg and cry. It was what Franco's men had been expecting all along, for they had devised a crude form of torture for this Irish American they had caught fighting in the International Brigade: they would often take a party of thirteen to the execution grounds. After the volley of shots, twelve would be dead; one would be left unscathed. Up to now the thirteenth had always been Jack.
It was a torture designed to make him wish for the death that was forever withheld; a torture designed to break him.
He wold let them believe he had finally cracked.
Then the fat guard Gonzalo would come with truncheon in hand and beat Jack about the shoulders to make him stand, and that would be Jack's opportunity.
During his two years in Moro, Jack had closely studied Gonzalo; the way he spread his legs, tottering and poorly balanced, as he beat the other prisoners. Jack would trip the man, grab him in a manacled grip, and choke him until the other guards laid down their arms. Gonzalo was the sort of coward to beg his fellow guards to do so in order to save his own life, Jack knew. Then it would be a hop over the wall of the execution yard, and every man for himself in Madrid.
A wild, desperate scheme, but one that just might work, for all its desperation. Jack hoped that Gonzalo would have the keys to the manacles on him; otherwise they'd all be loping about Madrid in chains and rags.
What the hell, he thought as a key was fitted into the massive lock in the iron door to their cell. Better to die a free man in the streets of Madrid than a cowering, whimpering soul in an execution lineup.
"Good luck, comrades," Jack whispered as the door swung open.
Gonzalo stood in the doorway, a short squat man whose eyes sparkled with insane glee.
"Good morning, dead men. Did you sleep well?"
Several guards stood in back of him as usual, Jack noted.
"We have a special event for today. You, Irish." He pointed at Jack with his truncheon. "You first. Today is your day."
Jack rose to his feet, feeling the pull of weight from the chains. He shuffled to the door; the ankle chain had worn the skin away in places there, but he no longer felt the pain, only the raw anger. Today is the day, he thought. Gonzalo does not know how right he is.
The others struggled to their feet in back of him and formed a single line as Jack walked toward the guard.
Today or never, he thought a she looked straight at Gonzalo, smelling the garlic on him.
Passing the guard, he was suddenly and violently propelled into the hallway by a hand on his shoulder. The metal door slammed shut behind him with the other twelve men locked in the cell.
Gonzalo smiled at him: "Oh, Irish. Do we have a surprise for you!"