INITIATIVE TEST
by
Jim Stewart

 


Military training, particularly in Special Units demands techniques which can be only learned by doing them. This story is about a time in my early in my life when covert capture and prisoner control skills were taught by selecting targets - preferably individuals not expecting to be ‘snatched’.
Here I describe one such memorable event, when I was in the wrong place at the wrong time - or was it the right place?

Many years later I enjoyed writing this story - and was surprised that so many of the details scary at the time, are still as vivid as ever in my mind.

 

         
 

INITIATIVE TEST
by
Jim Stewart
(Complete text 5,180 words)

PROLOGUE:
Kidnapping somebody is not as easy as it looks on TV. I know, because I’ve tried it. Kidnap scenarios are high on the list of turn-ons for a lot of SM game-players. Great as a fantasy, but in real life to be forcibly abducted when you’re not expecting it, without knowing why or what might happen next, is a scary business. I can tell you that from experience, also. Even though I knew who my abductors were and that I wouldn’t end up dead ... it was an intensely unnerving business which I seriously didn’t enjoy. After forty years I can still describe what happened moment by moment, move by move of my captors, chunks of dialogue and even the structure of the knots they tied. Not because I got any pleasure from it (at the time) but because the intensity is something I haven’t experienced since.

 

SETTING THE SCENE:
In the nineteen fifties, conscription into National Service in Britain meant leaving the job you’d probably only just started and spending two years wasting time. World War Two was over; fighting in ‘Trouble spots’ (which did not include Ireland) was the province of career servicemen, who resented and despised the two-year time wasters. Sensible National Service draftees spent their Call-up learning a trade or continuing their education.

I already had four successful years as a theatre technician behind me. Immediately before Call-up I was (at the age of 21) ‘number one’ in control of complicated stage production with a cast, orchestra and crew of over 100. I had learned how to ‘manage’ and enjoyed having the authority. But, for my compulsory National Service I decided to make it as easy on myself as possible. I chose Air Force because it was considered ‘superior’ to Army, and deliberately refused officer training because I wanted no responsibility or future career from it. The idea was to stay anonymous, stay out of trouble and enjoy whatever opportunities came my way.

The tough initial training period was a welcome change from my previous employment. Never in my life had I been allowed to get muddy or dirty or play rough games. I was fit enough when I joined, but enjoyed becoming fitter. Choice of a ‘Trade’ for short-term non-career ‘Oiks’ was limited. In my ‘Documents’ intimate details of my previous career status and social status (extremely class conscious, the Royal Air Force), were put before a panel of ‘Prunes’ (Officers). They decided that, in spite not wanting to become an officer, I was a ‘Decent-Sort-of-Chap’ and assigned to RAF Signals. I’m not sure how it would have affected their evaluation if my documents had revealed the fact that I had also spent ten years as an amateur escapologist and was a card-carrying masochist.

Training in Signals = telephones, telex, ciphers and code, and Air Traffic Control. A gentlemanly business for the men and women involved; clean, comfortable and ‘cushy’, especially as I was ‘posted’ to a non-operational Base (no aeroplanes!) in a not too remote country area. Duties left enough time and energy to enjoy facilities on offer, such as occasional off-base physical training courses which permitted extra time away from humdrum routine; rock climbing, mountain rescue, air sea rescue, diving, unarmed combat. New skills and new challenges. I wasn’t the best at any of these pursuits but did earn a reputation for having a shot at anything (physical). The opportunities were there and it was better than codes and ciphers. The physical training instructors on the Base were a tough bunch - but generous to those who appreciated their skills. Predictably, they were all that odd blend of sadists-and-masochist under one skin, born to challenge and eager to be challenged. But, however much I was tempted - my skills as a would-be Houdini, I prudently kept undisclosed.

Interestingly, a special advanced course for combined forces was also run by these training instructors. Not exactly SAS but selected career army, navy and air force hard-nuts were invited to visit for 4 week intensive courses. I volunteered for the course but wasn’t eligible, being National Service. Perhaps just as well because their physical skills were way out of my league! These elite squads who came and went were generally know as ‘Turks’ because they spent their entire time there in full dark combat gear, and were a law unto themselves, or rather - to the officers, specially trained to keep them in line. My request did, however, bring one advantage. It persuade my Signals Section Commander to promote me to corporal rather than risk losing me permanently to more active employment. This allowed me to use the bar also used by the physical training staff, who were all corporals or sergeants. The down-side was that my promotion demanded I should become Chief Assistant to the NCO in charge of Codes and Ciphers ... which caused me to become a ‘target’ and get unceremoniously abducted. #

Chapter Two: The 'Snatch'
Part of the short sharp course for each intake of Turks was a final Initiative Test. That's how I came to be 'snatched' one damp November night smack in the middle of the main compound. I was off-duty, heading out of the NCO's bar because a rowdy drinking session was building up. Two beefy Turks were suddenly standing immediately in front of and behind me as though we'd been buddies for years. Passers-by passed by without a second glance at three men apparently in intimate conversation. Anyway, nobody messed with Turks. I had only had one drink, but two oppressively close rock solid jaws quietly convinced me that they could quickly make me look drunk to the point of falling over. They instructed me to accompany them behind a shed ... which I did, almost without my feet touching the floor. There, pushed against a low metal fence, my mouth was taped before I'd even thought of making a noise.

'Swift and silent' I evaluated mentally before I was suddenly uncomfortably bent almost double over the fence. While my feet were being kicked wide apart, the Turk in front pressed down on the top of my spine. This left the man behind me free to begin roping my wrists efficiently behind my back while pressing me into the fence with the full weight of his body. He took his time. My experience as an Escape Artist automatically swung into play as I followed the progress of an efficient square lash taking shape in the middle of my back. Like being in a car accident, it all seemed to be happening in slow motion.

'Hands parallel with the waist,' I thought ... 'Palms against forearms.' 'Unusual', I thought as a fist from behind me gripped my hair and a vicelike arm circled my throat.

I watched the stars and felt the rain on the part of my face that wasn't covered with adhesive tape, while the ropes from my wrists were knotted in front of my waist and then systematically run through both elbows pulling them forward before the rope was knotted with emphatic finality below my rib cage.

'Impossible to reach' I decided calmly as my neck was released and I stared mutely across the fence into a pair of piercing steel blue eyes .

Suddenly I was looking at the floor again, collar gripped firmly from behind. The athletic figure ahead of me was stooping to produce something from a back-pack behind the fence. I anticipated a sack over my head as everything went dark - but my head emerged out of the other side and I was standing up wearing an army rain poncho-type ground sheet. For the record, it wasn't the sort of lightweight kit they use now. Back then a groundsheet poncho was thick khaki rubberised canvas with a tall collar but no hood; at front and back it reached to below the knees, at the sides below the finger-ends and had metal eyelets all round the edge for when used as a ground sheet. It completely covered my roped arms I noted as the grim-faced Turk in front carefully adjusted the high collar so it easily hid my taped mouth. The body weight which had been clamping me against the fence withdrew slightly but a mouth, dangerously close to my ear, advised me to keep my legs well spread or walk like a duck for a week.

Now, with two determined-to-pass-their-initiative-test Turks looming on either side of me, they quietly explained the differences between achieving their aims the 'Hard way' or the 'Easy way'. I decided to co-operate (at least in the short term).

This would involve us walking together like three merry fellows who’d already had a few drinks in the Club and were now heading ... past the Guard Post ... out of the main gate and off towards the village pub. My mind raced ahead to the opportunities which this might afford. Security on this easy-going camp was far from strict (No IRA terrorist threat in those days). Foot traffic in and out of the gate was continuous because officer’s quarters, married quarters and the local pub were all only a short walk from the main compound. Ever hopeful, I realised that most of the guards knew me by sight because they also used the gym and I’d been on courses with them. With any luck ‘Big Toby’ or one of his mates would be manning the gates and call me over for a chat.

As two more rain-ponchos appeared and were slipped over two bullet heads, their woollen caps (which distinguish these hard-nut visitors from the more conventional RAF personnel) were firmly pulled down around their ears and eyebrows. My distinctive RAF cap, bearing it’s flashy new ‘Codes and Ciphers’ badge, symbol of my trusted status as knower-of-codes, was retrieved from the mud. It disappeared into the rucksack and a woollen cap was crammed firmly over my ears until it almost covered my eyes. When this was arranged to their satisfaction my attention was drawn to the fact that ends of the rope at my front were quite long. ... long enough to disappear under the ponchos of the man on either side of me. Taking up the slack they neatly demonstrated that they had considerable control. They also explained that one false move as we passed the Guard Room would result in my suddenly falling over ... amid much merry laughter. I would then be hoisted onto a brawny shoulder (hanging rather limp) and be carried out of the gate while the third member of our party remained at the guard post to explain how I (another ‘Turk’) was the looser of a wager and about to be dunked in the local brook. Our boys on guard duty have learned not to get involved with the carryings-on of these highly volatile visitors who live life by different rules.

 

INTO THE DARKNESS
Reason prevailed and I walked out of the gate flanked by two walls of glistening khaki rain-cape, who waved cheerily to Big Toby as he munched a doughnut and watched TV. Out into the soggy night we walked. Our sudden detour behind a hedge and into a field went completely unnoticed by man nor beast. Only when we were safely off the main road did they let go of their lead strings ... and reveal The Plan.

For their ‘test’ they had been ordered to capture and transport someone (?) from point A to point B - fifty miles away with no transport provided and deliver them to an ‘enemy’ camp. I began to think I should have fought harder in the first place. Somehow they knew about my recent training in the latest code and cipher technology and decided this would score extra points with their Evaluators.

Technically, they had planned well. Two more metal framed ruck sacks had previously been stashed in the field. Determined that I would carry one and not give them any trouble, they described in graphic detail their plan B which involved them dragging a sack with me inside it over the entire distance if they failed to hitch a lift. Their alternative (plan A) was for me to behave myself and walk with them. Having never been that much of a masochist, I agreed to the rucksack - because it meant having my arms unroped - I thought. Wrong! The metal back-pack frame fitted neatly over my bound wrists and the shoulder/waist/chest straps of the frame secured even further the already escape-proof roping. With the rain poncho back in place and collar up, they were ready to move out into the rainy night, even if I wasn’t.  However, I’ve always been an optimist. Ever hopeful, I decided to wait for any opportunity that might arise - it didn’t.

We covered about twenty miles before dawn - when they decided to take a rest and some food. For me it was a relief to have the tape off my face - and we were in a field far from any houses - so they weren’t exactly taking a risk. My arms were totally numb and I advised them (not mentioning my special knowledge of circulation loss) that the rope should come off  “At least for a while”...? They agreed and I was duly undone - a process achieved without them taking off the back pack. As I gradually regained the use of my arms they showed me a duffel bag which could easily and quickly be pulled over my head and roped at the waist if I made any ‘silly move’. Food ready, we sat down to eat - me with hands free but rucksack attaching me to a tree. I couldn’t stand up let alone go anywhere - so I ate.

They amused themselves while we rested, describing how two duffel bags with one over my head to waist and the other from feet to waist - the two could be then laced together. I tentatively suggested that such a sack might draw attention to itself if it wriggled about. They considered the problem logically and decided that if the sack was being dragged along over bumpy ground the wriggling wouldn’t be noticed - and if they dragged the sack along the bottom of a ditch through fields, no one would be there to notice ... and if they dragged it along a ditch with water in it - I wouldn’t be wriggling for long - because I’d start to co-operate. I began to suspect they would pass their Initiative Test.

 

THE TRAILS CONTINUES:
It had stopped raining so they stowed their ponchos before moving ahead - but mine stayed on, covering my arms now strapped firmly down the sides of the metal back pack (I made a mental note that this was a useful piece of equipment). My mouth had been re-taped - having failed to convince them that I wouldn’t draw attention to my plight if left un-gagged. Their caution was justified because we soon met a couple of farm workers who happily stopped to chat with three tired trainee squaddies (well, chat with two of them). They helpfully suggested a quicker route to our destination which would take us through the next couple of villages rather than around them. As we walked on, my captors discussed the possibility of taking this shorter route - and I began to speculate on opportunities to at least embarrass them if not totally destroy their hopes of a successful exercise.

Maybe it was something in my walk or the glint in my eyes, but they began to discuss the risks involved in taking me through a village - but they seemed to relish the challenge and began to speculate about seriously uncomfortable means of preventing me from wrecking their project. Their most convincing argument was that they had 24 hours in which to deliver me - and we’d only done six so far - and could achieve their destination in a further four, maybe less. Pushed against a tree they explained into my face a few of the things they could do to/with me in the available extra fourteen hours. You’ve heard of Good cop/Bad cop interrogation techniques - well, these were Bad cop/Worse cop competing with each other to invent more effective deterrents.

They reached a decision - to (A) demonstrate their ability to stay in control, and (B) take a look around the village without having to keep an eye on me. An army sleeping bag and a few tent-pegs later, they were free to take as long as it took to explore the village and “have a couple of drinks when it’s Opening Time”. I was left under a hedge with nothing for company but an occasional rabbit and my thoughts. At that point in my life, with ten years of Houdini interest behind me, I was experiencing the situation on a level completely unsuspected by my two captors - but I did begin to wonder if something I may have said around the Physical Training Instructors might have resulted in me being targeted as victim in this particular exercise.

In fact I had, on one occasion when socialising with the PTIs (Physical Training Instructors), tentatively brought up the subject of training medical personnel to deal with violent patients. They’d told me that the RAF Regiment (The Air Force ground fighting force and hard nuts) were usually called in, but the medical orderlies could earn promotion if they became proficient in unarmed combat - and to prove they could physically subdue and restrain a violent patient was part of the promotion test. The P.T.I. had admitted they trained the orderlies and evaluated the tests ... but they themselves were too skilled to play the violent patients.

This dubious honour, they’d told me with relish, usually was offered to any poor sod who was up on charges for minor misdemeanours. They were offered reduction of sentence if they, for just ten minutes would play the part of a mentally unhinged and violent patient. While offering this alternative to six or eight weeks of jankers (punishment duty such as tedious cookhouse and other unpleasant tasks plus hourly check-ins at the Guard Room) the ten minutes of no-holds-barred violence sounded like a good deal. Not so! The orderlies knew if they failed to come out on top they’d failed the course, if they succeeded they got promotion and a weekend pass. The volunteer nutcases weren’t told until it was too late to back out, that it was in their best interest to put up a good struggle ... because if they got subdued, the orderlies could keep them ‘under-wraps’ for 48 hours and were free to get their own back for any minor damage caused during the contest ... perhaps using the opportunity to practice their skills with splints, plaster bandages, enemas and catheters. The PTIs, in telling me this had sniggered and asked if I’d like a shot at being one of the contestants ... and I’d firmly rejected the offer ... which didn’t mean to say I’d mentally closed the door on the possibility.

As the time ticked by under my hedge, neatly wrapped up and pegged down, my mind went back to other occasions during mountain rescue exercises ... and on a parachute jump course ... and a diving course. In each incident the instructors had humorously demonstrated the little tricks traditionally played on recruits. All under the guise of harmless manly fun, trainees were left hung up in training harness, the winch unaccountably jammed - left unable to get out of a diving suit, all the instructors suddenly off doing more important things - lashed naked to the goal posts when everybody went off to the showers because I had declined to join the Section rugby side. Each incident had been part of what seemed to be paying the price for belonging to the ‘Inner Circle’ - perhaps my enjoyment rather than resigned acceptance of it all had blown my cover.

How long my abductors were gone for I had no idea - but I had pee’d before they got back ... I couldn’t exactly tell them because they didn’t take the gag off. However, it’s amazing what body language can achieve even when bundled up and pegged down. I grunted urgently to indicate that I needed to tell them something - and they asked what - offering several interpretations to my frantic grunting.
“Need the bog?”
Nod, nod, nod.
“Shit or slash?” (British army jargon).
Mur ... umph” was my reply. “
“Shit or slash? One nod for shit, two nods for slash”.
I nodded once, very emphatically.
“He needs to crap, Charlie”.
“You think so, Robert?”
“Looks like it, Charles”.
“I’m not so sure that’s what he’s saying, Robert. I think you’ve misunderstood. I think he’s saying we should let him out of the bag so he’ll have a better chance of spoiling our plans - isn’t that right, Sunshine? #
We know your little games, Stewart. All about your little games. We’re surprised you’re even still here because from what we were told, you think you’re something of a Houdini. Well, we’ve decided we’ve proved you’re not - and there’s a weekend pass for us starting soon as we’ve delivered you and finished our test - so we have plans for getting you to our Depot quick as we can, right Bob?”

“Right you are, Charlie? - so, you stay inside your nice cosy sleeping-bag - it's warm and padded and waterproof - Sunshine and no arguments because you stay gagged - and if you crap you crap - because at this stage of the game we’re not taking any unnecessary risks. Am I correct, Charles?”
“Indubitably, Robert. We’re officer material - and know all about crap.”
“But in case you think we’ve done with the Houdini-bit, we haven’t. Charlie and I worked out a little plan over our bacon and eggs in the village caff. We convinced a couple of local lads that our training mission is to transport a piece of very heavy equipment across country and deliver it to an Army depot (not Air Force base, you’ll note). We made them feel very sorry for us - so once we get you to the village they’ve promised to give us a lift to the Base. Isn’t that generous of them - and you’re not going to embarrass us, are you, Stewart. That isn’t a question. You are going to be an inanimate object, Stewart; a piece of mysterious equipment - a Top Secret - Thing. And we are going to carry you, comme ça.” he said producing a chunky wooden pole. “One carrying pole, requisitioned for the purpose.”

 

PACKED AWAY:
The following half hour is burned into my memory. I was assisted into a kneeling position still inside the soggy sleeping bag and ‘invited’ to straighten my arms down my side and reach for my ankles. In this position I was expertly roped so I would remain there. From experience I knew that in that position the next however many hours were going to be excruciatingly uncomfortable - if not dangerous. As if reading my mind one of the two oppressors reassured me “Don’t worry, Stewart, we’ve decided two hours top whack before you’re delivered and signed for. We’ll make sure they let you out immediately, rather than keep you there so they can show you to their friends, won’t we Bob?”

“Well, we’ll try Charlie, but you know what these army types are like. Not like those nice polite Brylcream Boys in the RAF.”

There was little time to dwell on this prospect because surprising things were happening: Two metal-framed rucksacks, still lumpy with their contents, were being lashed along either side of my body. During this complicated process it was helpfully explained to me that this was, in essence, a camouflage exercise. The shape of the eventual package must not even hint at it’s ‘top secret’ contents. The third rucksack frame was fitted above my head and shoulders in such a way that any head movement would be inside the frame. Found objects were gathered from the woods, anything to mask the internal shape.

From one of the rucksacks a plentiful supply of rope appeared - and so the covering of the package began. Now, I’m good at wrapping awkward shaped packages, but these two lads really got into the spirit of the thing. With three waterproof poncho/groundsheets and unlimited rope to play with they took their time to prepare what I’m sure must have looked like a very plausible piece of heavy equipment. I had absolutely no way of knowing.

The rolling from side to side to get the thick covering on every side and roped to keep it (and me) firmly in place, actually helped to postpone the inevitable cramping that I knew the kneeling position would produce. Luckily, I was younger then and fit - but I was very nervous that there would not be enough air inside the waterproof covering which was rapidly becoming more securely roped. But, they’d thought it through - and, speaking loudly into the dense covering, reassured me that air was available through two carefully concealed openings - which, they then demonstrated could be closed at will from outside. They confidently stated that they expected me to play along. Another factor was how the lifting and shifting would intensify pressure on my already aching (and sticky) body. A running commentary from outside kept me informed that the lifting pole was ready to be tested.

Surprisingly, they’d calculated well. My suspended weight didn’t too much increase the lateral pressure. I swayed a lot - but they soon let me know they were ‘just testing’. I had fears of vomiting into the gag - and the situation is not one I would, in the light of experience, recommend - but I was in no position to argue and was preoccupied, steeling myself to survive the rest of the journey - plus the embarrassment of arrival at ‘the depot’ which would inevitably be enjoyed by many - an RAF man captive and humiliated in a Royal Engineers army depot - and there was no hope that news of the ordeal would not get back to my home Base before I did.

The penultimate development was to learn (hear) that the offer of a ride to our destination included the truck meeting us at the end of the lane, well outside the village. So, the journey on the pole was relatively short - but the encounter between the four guys at the lane end was much more eventful than anticipated. Of course I could only hear indistinctly, but it soon became obvious that the two Turks were deliberately talking loudly so I could get the gist of what was going on. They thanked the two locals for their help and described the effort of having carried the ‘Equipment’ over fields for more than thirty miles. The owners of the van were impressed, asking how heavy and what was in the package. The elaborate evasiveness of ‘Charlie & Bob’ seemed calculated to stimulate curiosity. The dialogue need not be repeated here in detail, but questions about weight; fragility; whether the package had to be kept upright - all seemed to invite further curiosity. Hands roamed the covering - more than two pairs. It was obvious, as the voices of the two locals also became louder that, whether by sign or prior information, they knew what was inside the package.

Hands roamed and groped and probed around the covering and my body, as voices loudly speculated on what the package could possibly contain. Tilted first to one side and then the other, I was systematically allowed to rest on all six sides as the feeling and squeezing intensified and the ‘bad acting’ vocal commentary continued. This slightly unnatural dialogue took a decidedly sinister turn as compliments on the efficiency of the packaging began to dwell on the fact that it was seriously waterproof. The army guys elaborated on the fact that it had rained for the first twenty miles they had ‘carried’ the package.

The first voice to say it needed to pee was one of the locals. The two army guys agreed that it might be wise before lifting such a heavy load into the truck - and all agreed. Whether the covering was fully waterproof or not I had no way of knowing in advance. Being inside a waterproof sleeping bag I suppose it didn’t really matter - but it mattered to me at the time. Whether by accident or design I was lying on my back which was more comfortable than kneeling - and my head was almost inside the front rucksack - so however many gallons rained down on the package, mercifully, I was proof against it - but it was situation totally outside my experience or taste. I was in no position to complain either then or later.

They tired of their fun - and handled the package onto the truck carefully, discussing as they did, whether to take the short or long route, the “good road” or the “bad road”. They discussed at unnecessary length whether they should lash the cargo down. “Wouldn’t do to have it fall off the back at forty miles an hour.” But Charlie and Bob rode with me in what I discovered was an open pick-up. I was kneeling again, their boots braced against my sides (or, more accurately, against the two rucksacks). They talked to me during the journey, thanking me for my co-operation, promising to keep at least some of the details to themselves - but suggesting that as soon as we arrived at the depot they should get the guys at the Transport Pool to hose the package down. Bob decided it might be more practical to do it at a petrol station on the way - because they had a couple of extra pairs of willing hands to help with the process. The two locals enthusiastically accepted the additional opportunity to play games. I assumed it was Bob and Charlie who managed to hose the jet of water in through both breathing holes just for good measure. Eventually, the van delivered us right into the army depot - where the ensuing scenes need not be remembered.

I’ve enjoyed re-telling this true if unbelievable story after nearly forty years. It was an event I never lived down during the rest of my Air Force career - but one positive result was that, after getting back to my own Unit, I was from then on referred to by every man (and woman) on the Base as ‘Houdini’, a situation which brought with it a few added bonus opportunities, such as being invited to help plan ‘Escape and Evasion’ exercises, and finding out more from the physical training instructors about fighting someone into a strait jacket. In fact, several times I did get to play the part of an unwilling patient, before my term in the RAF ended and I was allowed back into the Real World.
END



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