The Rescue Pt. 02
Huddled in the corner of her dark cell Michelle brushes away tears from her cheek, the one that still stings from the slap she'd received while Ballo put on his show for her buyers. The mere thought of being sold to some sexual deviant makes her retch but thankfully nothing comes up. Having to stay all night in a cell is one thing, having to spend all night in a cell with your vomit all over the floor is an entirely different and unpleasant thought. Michelle goes to her one barred window to breath in some fresher air so she doesn't lose it. Somehow, someway she thought that she would get out of all of this right up until the whole webcam thing earlier. Hearing what he was telling all the sick people that were going to be bidding on her dashed any hope that she had that this would somehow turn out okay for her. The thought of never seeing her family or her friends again sinks into her mind to the point where she thinks death would be preferably to the hell that awaits her once she's sold to some sick bastard. She goes to her cot and reaches underneath it extracting a shard of wood that she managed to strip off one of the trees near her latrine a day ago when the guard wasn't paying attention. Its point is splintered but sharp and she intended to use it as a weapon in case any of the guards decided to go against Ballo's orders of not raping her. Now in her despair she wonders if she could ram it into her own jugular vein and bleed out before they could administer first aid to her. Before she can take this last desperate act her cell door opens and Ballo strides inside. "This is it. He's got the ahead to break me by raping me." She thinks as her hand tightens over her only defense.
"Then why not just kill me and be done with it?" She asks and receives another smack across her face that sends her crashing to the dirty floor of her cell. The impact jars the piece of wood from her hand and sends it skittering across the cold cement floor. Part of her wants to lie here and just give up but another part, a stronger part makes her rise to her knees and spit out the coppery taste of her own blood in defiance. Ballo considers another slap since she rose so quickly but he notices a certain look in her eyes, like that of a tiger poised to strike and in that brief moment he feels fear tickling at the back of his neck. "She looks as though she might rip my throat out with her teeth given the chance," He thinks but pushes his fear aside as a preposterous notion that this woman could possibly hurt him.
"Keep defying me and I will kill you after my men have had their fill of you," He tells her. "Now come, I have some new prisoners that I want you to have a look at. They were not so willing to leave their village and needed my brand of... persuasion."
He grabs her by the arm and forcefully drags her out the door into the courtyard keeping her at arm's length. A group of armed militia are standing guard over about twenty villagers all of whom are being forced to sit in a circle. Michelle notices that while it is mostly men there are a few women and some teenagers among the group as well. Some of which she recognizes as a tribe not too far from the compound because she's treated a few of them at the aid station. She is dragged to the group and shoved to the ground in front of them splattering more grim on her already filthy clothes. The rocky ground bites into her knees and hands but she ignores it in favor the frightened man before her. She looks at him seeing a gash on his head that is seeping blood.
"May I please have a medical bag?" She asks knowing the consequences if she sounded like she was demanding something.
Ballo chuckles. "See, you can be taught," He says and sends a man to get her a few medical kits. Upon his return, she patches up the man's cut and moves on the next one. This man groans when she touches his arm.
"His arms broken," she tells Ballo.
"Then he is of no use to me," He says pulling his sidearm and pointing it at the man. Heedless of the danger Michelle moves herself in front of the barrel before he can pull the trigger.
"Wait! I can splint it and he'll be all right in a few days. You don't have to kill him," She tells him hoping to save a life.
"He only has one arm, what use can he be to me in the mines?"
"He's a village chieftain; the others will follow his orders," She lies hoping that she's not found out. "Kill him and then you'll have to kill them all because they will fight you at every turn. I know these people, I've worked with them, so please believe me." He studies her face for several moments trying to tell if she is lying then slowly holsters his gun.
"All right, fix him up but if I find that you are lying to me..."
"I wouldn't," She says. He nods but before walking away he smacks her again. Before she can sit up he grabs her by her hair and yanks her face close to his.
"Never talk back to me in front of my people," He whispers to her. "Otherwise I will lower your price and have my way with you, bitch. Do you understand?"
He shoves her back down to the ground laughing as he starts walking away. The man with the broken arm catches her as best he can and helps her get situated. Fighting through tears she begins to splint the man's arm.
"Thank you," She tells him knowing that he can't understand her. He looks at her and whispers something in his native tongue.
"Sorry, I don't speak your language," Michelle whispers back. He covers her hand with his and then gently runs the back of his hand along her cheek catching her tears.
"You are very kind. I'm so sorry," She whispers splinting his arm. Dutifully she works with each of them tending their scrapes and cuts trying to sound reassuring even though none of them seems to understand her. She reaches a sobbing teenage girl that she recognizes. "Yacine?" She asks. The scared teenager looks up at her and then hugs her fiercely.
"Miss Michelle!" She cries out in English. "I was afraid they had killed you."
"Not yet sweetie," She tells her. "Are you all right, did they hurt you?" She pulls away and begins looking over the girl afraid that she's been injured or worse.
She shakes her head. "No, I am fine. I was worried about my father; I thought that devil was going to shoot him. Thank you for saving him."
"I uh... told them that he was a village leader," Michelle explains. "And if they harmed him you all would fight them."
"You saved him Miss Michelle, thank you."
"All I did was splint his broken arm and get him sent to the diamond mines with the rest of you," Michelle tells her sadly.
"Do not worry Miss Michelle, he is coming."
"Who's coming?" Michelle looks at her confused then asks. "Is this one of your dreams again Yacine?"
"Not dream, vision. He comes, the man with the right arm of death. He comes for you."
"Death is coming for me, that's not very reassuring Yacine," Michelle tells her.
"Not Death himself Miss Michelle... You will see, he will arrive soon and he will free us all," She tells her and hugs her. "You will be most happy to see him again."
"Again?" Michelle asks confused. "What do you mean by again?"
Yacine shakes her head. "I am not sure. I have the feeling you know this man that is coming but all will be revealed soon."
"I hope that you're right Yacine. I really do," She says. "I'm afraid though that the Death part will come first though. She thinks to herself as she hugs the girl.
The Gambia shimmers in the midday sun as the little boat that Mr. Voss managed to hire chugs slowly along. To say I was surprised to be met outside the airport in Dakar by a man in a suit holding a sign with my name on it would be a monumental understatement. The man explained that he worked for a company owned by Voss enterprises and I was to be given anything I needed. Instead of hugging the man as if he was some sort of long lost relative, I simply nodded and told him that I needed transport to Senegal, preferably by boat since the airport there was under militia control at this point. He nodded and said that he knew the man for the job and escorted me to his waiting car. I instantly liked the old man with the rickety fishing boat despite the fact that I thought the thing would sink once we get about a hundred yards from the docks. We didn't sink however and we managed to evade a couple of gunboats before entering the mouth of the Gambia. I swat at yet another bug that was sucking blood out of me just below my Eddie tattoo and wish I had the sense enough to pack some sort of bug repellent with me. The old man steering the boat laughs at me and says in Arabic. "Must have been an awfully hungry bug to try and suck the blood of death."
"I'm not Death," I tell him.
"You wear his face," He says pointing at my tat.
"It's just Eddie, ya know from Iron Maiden. Up the Irons... nothing. No you wouldn't, would you? Never mind," I tell him and check my watch. We should be about halfway to my drop off point. Like Erin said, I could take a tributary right up to the encampment but then we'd probably end up shot all to pieces so that wouldn't work. "How much further?" I ask him beginning to feel anxious.
He points to a small dock jutting out of the water about hundred yards off the starboard bow. "That's as close as I can get. Militia control everything farther up river and I do not feel like getting shot at today."
I nod. A few minutes later, I hop off onto the dock and turn back to the captain. "Remember our deal. Be here 3:00, each day for the next two days," I remind him. "Look for me or the girl," I show him the picture again. If it's just the girl,"
"I know, I know. Contact your man from the docks and her will take care of everything from there."
"I have your word?" I ask and hand him $200 American.
He nods and shakes my hand. "I will treat her like she was my own daughter."
"Allah watch over you my friend. Thank you."
"Allah be with you on your journey my friend,"
With that he steers the boat away from the dock and back up the river. I know that Trent promised to send a helicopter once I had done his job and got Michelle but I don't trust the beady-eyed little bastard very much, hence my arrangement with the boat captain. I head into the tree line and take a compass reading then make sure that matches up with the GPS coordinates.
"The wonders of modern technology. I might not have fallen into that frozen lake if I had you back then," I tell the device. I back that up with a check of the maps Erin printed for me so I know for sure where I'm heading.
"Need to head West Southwest and I'll hit the gravel road that leads to the compound. Don't get lost this time asshole," I think to myself then begin heading in that direction. As soon as I enter the wooded area, I unpack the M4, attach the scope and suppressor then sling it over my shoulder. I cinch the sling up tight so the weapon rests against my chest with my hand on the handle ready for action. For probably the fourth time today I take a moment to check the ammo in it and my handgun because it never hurts to be sure. The rumble of an engine cutting through the jungle sounds causes me to duck down behind the offered foliage for cover. A truck goes bouncing down the gravel road loaded with a couple of militia in the back armed with AK's. "Looks like they're patrolling the road," I note. "Let's hope they're not sending guys into the woods, or this could be over pretty quick."
I take my time moving through the underbrush, stopping every occasionally to make sure any sound I hear is some sort of animal or natural sound and not a patrol. Finding a nice open area near a stream, about an hour later I pull out my compass and check my bearing.
"Still on course, more or less. Shouldn't be much father now."
As I'm putting everything away, I hear the snap of a twig nearby but before I go prone, a gunshot rings out. A bullet rips through my left shoulder toppling me to the ground. Pain flares all the way down my arm as I roll over to my stomach, my eyes searching the woods for my enemy. "Find him quick before he calls for backup," I tell myself as I scan the brush. I hear the click of his radio as he tries to call in for reinforcements and fire several shots from my suppressed M4 in that direction hoping for a miracle.
When there's no return fire I get to my feet cautiously and make my way in the direction, the throbbing in my arm will just have to wait. I find the guy lying just inside the tree line with his radio nearby shattered by one of my bullets. Reaching down I check for a pulse and find none. "Guess I got lucky with at least a couple of my shots," I think. I breathe a quick sigh of relief when the pain in my shoulder flares reminding me that I need to get a move on. Quickly I find a place to stash the body and head towards the small embankment I was near before the shot rang out. I scoot backwards to the lip of the embankment where the stream is then slip over the edge. While waiting to see if he got a call out I tug off my shirt and examine my wound.
"Not good," I think as blood pours from both the front and back of my shoulder. I grab the medical kit from my bag and slap a pressure bandage on both the entrance and the exit wounds. "You can still do this," I tell myself as I put my shirt back on. I suppress a groan as I lift my wounded arm to get my shirt on. "Your damn arm still works so it must have missed the bone and anything else that's vital. Who cares if it hurts, Michelle doesn't have time for you to take a break because your arm hurts. Get up and get moving."
I get to my feet and hurry off deeper into the jungle hoping that the dead man didn't get off a message to his buddies otherwise this place will soon be swarming with militia. I shove the pain radiating down my left arm to a dark corner in the back of my mind and will it to stay there. It does its best to ignore me but I press on anyway unaware that the pressure bandages have already begun leaking.
A little while later my body is begging me to stop and quench my thirst. Staggering to a small patch of foliage I drop down to my knees and try to catch my breath. The only sounds I hear are the birds overhead and my own heavy breathing.
"You really let yourself go old man," I hear Ricky Bridge's voice saying calling me "old man" just like he used to when he was still alive. "I thought you of all people would have kept in shape."
I look around and see Ricky, decked out in his Desert BDU's just like the ones he was wearing when he got killed. He gives me a wink and then chuckles. "I used to joke about you being an old man, guess now it's finally true huh?"
"I've been shot asshole. Don't be so loud either, there are people out here trying to kill me," I whisper to the phantom.
"Huh, guess they've met you then."
"Ha Ha, very funny," I tell the illusion as I start to worry that if I'm already starting to have delusions that I'm losing blood quicker than I thought.
"Don't worry they can't hear me Ken. Can you, you bunch of morons!" He yells. I cringe and look around for a moment before I realize just how bad my hallucination is getting to be.
"Not now, goddamn it," I mutter aloud. I drink more water than I need to trying to get Ricky to fade back into the recesses of my mind.
"Hey, you're bleeding pretty bad there Ken. You might want to get that looked at," he says not going away.
"Not until I find her."
"Aw jeeze, you're not out here getting your ass shot for that reporter Kris are you? I told you that she was more trouble than she was worth. Remember that time you and her were on that boat that blew up?" He asks.
"No, it's not Kris. That was years ago," I tell him. I pull out the picture that Trent printed and try to hand it to him.
"Delusion, remember?" He says with a chuckle as he waves his hand through the picture. I nod and hold it up for him to see realizing that I look pretty ridiculous out here in the jungle holding up a picture to nothing. "Wow, she's a looker Ken. Whoever's paying you to find her is a lucky man."
"Her name's Michelle and nobodies paying me to find her, she's my... well friend I guess. She gave me this." I fumble around and pull out the shark tooth that hangs around my neck with my dog tags. Ricky kneels down and looks.
"Great White huh? Hey, did you tell her about that time you played hide and seek with that one a few years ago?" He asks.
I nod and look at the picture getting lost in my memories for a moment. "I told her a lot of things."
"And she still likes you? Sounds like a keeper to me Grayson. You need to get going though, she's waiting for you, don't forget that," Ricky says.
"I won't. Wait a second, how'd you know about the hide and seek thing with the Great White, that was years after you were gone? Ricky?" I ask but as I look up he's already gone.
Slowly I get to my feet, shake the cobwebs loose from my head and strike off back down the trail. I tell myself that as long as you know that you're talking to an hallucination you're not crazy but I'm not sure a professional would agree with that. Soon I hear the sounds of people talking and a generator running. I edge up to the tree line as close as I dare and find the Aid Station encampment laid out before me. I toss a glance towards the heavens and thank God that I found the place before venturing back into the trees a bit. I find a decent tree that I think I can climb to get an overlay of the compound.
"Come on, you can do this. Just like that time little Heather Whittington's dolly got thrown into that tree in the playground. You climbed that tree like you were born to it," I tell myself and begin to work my way up the tree. I manage to shut out the fact that once I retrieved the doll and tossed it down to Heather; Jimmy Hatcher, who threw it there in the first place, started pelting me with rocks for ruining his joke sending me falling from the tree. I snapped my leg in two places and spent the next six months in a cast while Jimmy and Heather giggled at me as they kissed each other behind that same tree.
"There's a lesson in there somewhere," I think. I manage to get a good vantage point where I can see most of the compound and not have to worry about tumbling out of the tree. The pain in my shoulder, once forgotten, comes back with a vengeance. It hits me so hard and so sudden that I throw up the water I drank earlier. As soon as my stomach finishes empting itself onto the jungle floor I undo the rifle sling, toss it around the tree then reattach it basically lashing myself to the tree. Not a moment too soon as a wave of dizziness hits me but even as my grip slips a little the sling holds. With the wave passed I uncap my canteen and drink my remaining water knowing that if I don't I could collapse from dehydration. I bring the M4 up and check to make sure the night vision part of the scope is off then lift it to my eye for a better look around. To my north I see the Aid Station building itself, well calling it a building isn't exactly correct, it's more like an enlarged shack replete with bullet holes and scorch marks from the recent takeover. Movement to the left of the scope catches my eye so I sight on it. There is one man that appears to be shouting out orders to a few of the militia.
"Hello you son of a bitch," I say to myself before digging his picture from my pocket. A couple of glances back from one to the other and I confirm that he is my target. I feel the tension rising in my trigger finger and despite it being a while since I sniped someone I feel positive that just a pull on the trigger will turn his head into a fine red mist but I ease off. "I have to find Michelle first."
My eyes follow him to an out building where he stays for as long as I watch.
"Must be his quarters," I note making sure to pull out my map and mark it so I can find it again once I get inside. By now the sun is beginning to sink lower in the sky and nightfall is rapidly closing in. The jungle has already grown quite dark below which works to my advantage. "Come on; show me where you're holding her. Show me where you're keeping Michelle," I urge no one in particular. Finally as the last of the light is fading from the horizon I change over to the night vision and spy one of the militia leading a group of what I assume to be local villagers into the Aid station itself before chaining and pad locking it. "That's got to be where she's at."
I note its location on my map and say a silent prayer that she is in fact still here. If I had the time I'd notice that my shirt is beginning to darken from my blood loss but I'm too focused on getting out of this tree without killing myself. The jungle floor welcomes me as I lightly make it down and I fight the urge to kiss it. "Puked there about an hour ago, not a good idea," I think. "Let's see if I can manage not to screw up this rescue."
Alex wonders to himself just what in the hell he's doing as he finds a place to park near Addison's gallery. He's supposed to be picking her up at six tonight and yet it's barely after 3:00 but here he is walking into her gallery. A bell chimes announcing his entrance drawing Addison out from the back. "Welcome to Voss..." She begins her usual spiel but stops and smiles when she sees that Alex's the customer. "Hey."
"Hi, I was just in the neighborhood and thought I'd come in to see what you've done with the place. Renovations not too long ago right?" He asks.
She nods. "New displays, new front window and some office additions."
"Still haven't heard anything?" He asks.
"He's made it to Dallas, I know that much."
"Dallas? Could it be Dakar maybe?" He asks trying to remember the names of some of the cities in Northern Africa.
"That's it. God, I suck so hard at city names. It drove Michelle nuts when I'd screw up some cities name and she'd have to correct me. God, what I would give for her to be here correcting me now."
Alex reaches out and squeezes her shoulder. "She's going to be all right Addison. You've got to believe that. Now you were saying about you know he's made it to Dakar."
She nods laying her hand atop his thankful for his support. "One of Dad's business contacts there picked him up at the airport and put him on a boat that was going to head up river. I've spent the morning trying to remember if it's daytime or nighttime where they are. Imagine my surprise when I look it up online and see that they're only four hours ahead of us," Addison admits.
"Making it a little after seven there now. At least we know for sure that he's in country, that's something we didn't know before."
She nods. "And still no word from him. I'm not used to waiting around like this."
"I did some looking around this morning and things aren't good right now in Senegal which means that it might be hard for them to get a call out," He says.
"That doesn't make me feel any better," She tells him.
"Yeah me either but we just have to wait it out," He says and she nods. "I know I'm taking you to dinner tonight but how about lunch? Did you have lunch already?"
"I supposed that's your crafty way of asking me if I ate today and the answer is yes. Kim got me a sandwich when she took her lunch earlier but that doesn't mean I would say no to dessert."
He chuckles. "All right, let's go somewhere and sweeten you up."
"Okay, let me grab my purse and tell Kim I'm heading out for a little while," She says disappearing into the back. While he waits Alex walks around the gallery admiring the art until Addison snakes her arm under his and takes hold of his hand.
"Ready to go?" She asks.
He nods. "Where too?"
"It doesn't really matter to me, wherever you want to go is fine with me. Like I said I already ate."
"How about we grab a frozen yogurt and just walk around the lagoon?" He suggests.
"Sounds good and I've got my phone with me just in case," She tells him.
They make their way to the frozen yogurt vendor and Alex buys for the both of them. As they walk among the tourist, wandering about he asks.
"How many times has Lissa called you now?"
"Only twice," She says. "Truthfully I expected it to be more."
"Scottie probably took her phone away from her."
"Only if he has some kind of death wish," Addison says.
"If you guys had known us back when we were all still active duty you'd probably think that we did."
"You guys did some crazy things, huh?"
"We did things that made crazy look normal but we lived to outgrow most of that, thank god."
"I'm glad that you did, that all of you did I mean. Lissa wouldn't have met Scottie, Kenneth wouldn't be out there right now trying to find Michelle, I wouldn't be enjoying this free frozen yogurt."
Alex chuckles. "And a free meal tonight, don't forget that."
"Oh that's right," She leans up and kisses his cheek.
"What was that for?"
"For this," She says holding up the yogurt cup.
"If I get that for just a yogurt, I'm not sure I can wait until tonight."
"Good things come to those who wait."
"I have to tell you, that I'm absolutely horrible at waiting," He says leaning down and kissing her on the lips. She returns his kiss with the same passion before pulling away.
"I think I'm horrible at waiting too but I need to be getting back to the shop."
"Definitely." She states.
He watches her walk away admiring the sway in her hips as she crosses the bridge over the lagoon before disappearing into a crowd of tourists.
Enveloped by the darkness on the jungle floor I wait and make sure no one heard me when I climbed down and I'm proud of the fact that I only slipped twice. As I kneel there waiting for another wave of dizziness to pass I hear a voice suddenly speaks beside me.
"I always thought you were part fish, not part monkey," Ricky says as he's crouched beside me.
"You've got to stop doing that," I tell him.
"It's your head that's bringing me here not the other way around," He tells me.
"I need a lobotomy when this is all over then?" I ask.
"You ask me, you're walking around like you already had one but what do I know."
"It must be me because you never were this funny," I tell him as I begin moving towards the compound.
About a hundred feet from the wire, Ricky shouts out. "Patrol!"
I drop as into cover as quietly as I can and watch the two men pass by talking to one another. They're so close that I hold my breath as they pass because I fear they'd hear my exhale if I breathed. Finally they move on and I let out a sigh of relief.
"That was a close one," Ricky says.
"Yeah, thanks for the heads up," I whisper to him and inch my way closer to the compound trying to avoid making noise and alerting any of the patrolling guards. Getting to the wire was easy, slipping inside is going to the problem. They haven't been able to reinforce the chain link with razor wire or electricity as of yet, too bad I didn't bring any cutters with me. I work my way around the perimeter until I see Ricky pointing at a culvert jutting under the fence line.
"It's a tight squeeze but I think you can manage to shimmy under it and into the compound. You may have gotten old but you didn't get old and fat," He jokes.
I nod and give it a shot. I bang my wounded shoulder into the underside of the fence and bite my tongue so I don't howl out in pain.
"Don't lose it yet Grayson. She's still waiting," He says knowing the pain that just shot through me has me on the verge of passing out. I nod and pull my way under taking a moment to wipe the tears of pain from my eyes once I'm inside. I raise up to my feet but a feeling of dizziness hits me dropping me back to my knees. Closing my eyes I take several deep breathes and try to wait it out.
"She is right fucking there!" Ricky shouts at me. "Don't tell me that you've come this far only to quit now?"
"I'm not quitting. I don't fucking quit," I tell him.
"Then get on your damn feet and continue the mission, Grayson."
"You never were so bossy either," I tell him but manage to get to my feet just the same. I find a good hiding spot in the darkness and pull out my map to get my bearings. Orienting myself with Aid Building as a guide I note the command structure should be the next building over. "Now comes the hard part," I think as I settle in to wait for the lights to go out in the target building.
"You get some shut eye, I'll wake you when the coast is clear," Ricky says.
"You're my imagination, how are you gonna keep watch and wake me up?" I ask.
"Anyone ever tell you, that you worry too much? Stress is a killer you know."
"This bullet wound will probably do the job long before stress has it's chance."
"Yeah yeah," He states as my eyelids go heavy and I close them welcoming the darkness.
"Grayson's the cook of our little group I must confess. I try to make up for my lack of knowledge with showmanship." Alex says as he dumps the Chinese takeout boxes into his trash can.
"Yet another thing he and Michelle have in common it seems. Well, I'm impressed with your culinary skills Mr. Kortesis," She tells him as she looks over the table.
Candles are lit, the lights are dimmed, Alex's using his nice plates for the food and the blinds are open displaying a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean from his loft ten stories above street level.
"Thank you. I can dial up a takeout place like nobody's business," He tells her.
She laughs at his joke. "You have a nice place here. I love the view."
"I've been all over your estate Addison, you don't have to be nice about my humble abode."
"I wasn't just being nice, I was being serious. I like that this place has a more intimate feel to it and you can see the lights from downtown so much better here. I'll bet the Fourth of July firework shows are amazing to watch from here," She tells him smiling.
He thinks about that for a moment then nods. "Yeah, you know they kind of are now that you mention it."
Over dinner they make small talk about what's selling in Addison's gallery and how the security business of Alex's is doing just anything so they don't have to think about what's happening in Africa right now. That is until her cell phone begins to vibrate. "Sorry," She says pulling it from her purse. "It's Lissa."
"Go ahead and take it. I'll clear the table," He says.
She nods and punches the Accept button. "I still haven't heard anything Lis," she says in way of a greeting.
"We should be going there," Lissa tells her.
"To Africa? I'm not sure that'd be a good idea."
"You sound like Scott."
"He's a smart guy Lis, you should listen to him."
"I'm trying but its Michelle you know. She's always been there for me when I needed her and now she needs me. All I'm doing is sitting at home worrying about her. How's that being a good friend?"
"I know its hard Lis, I hate just as much as you do but really, what's the alternative? We just have to give Ken some time."
"I'm not sure how much longer I can wait."
"Me either Lis but really there's nothing we can do short of having Scott and Alex get the team back together and send them to Africa. I don't want to do that while I know Ken's already made it as far as Cincinnati," She tells her.
"Whichever. As much as I don't like it we have to give them another day, two at the most."
"And if we haven't heard anything by then we'll all go there ourselves and raise hell until we get some answers," Lis says.
"We can certainly do that. Now I need to be going, I'm on sort of date here," Addison tells her.
"A date! How can you go out while we don't know if our friend is alive or not?"
"It's with Alex and it's not a date date, not really. We just had dinner at his place and we're going to watch a movie here. You know in case Kenneth calls him for some reason and not me."
"This not a date date sounds an awful lot like a date Addison."
"It's just two people keeping each other company until we hear something, that's all."
"Uh huh, sure it is Addison."
"It is Lis and as soon as we hear something I'll call you and let you know. Still love you for some unknown reason."
"Cause you know that I'm right. I love you too sweetie and try to have some fun tonight. Lord knows somebody should."
"I'll try my best. Talk to you later, I promise," Addison says and hangs up.
"Michelle is lucky to have friends that worry so much about her," Alex says handing her a glass of wine.
"We're the lucky ones when it comes to Michelle," Addison says as they walk out onto the balcony. "She's always been there for us when we needed her and never once complained. When we were sixteen I met this boy one summer. True love or so I thought at fifteen years old but he lived in New York and was just down here for vacation. After his family left I wanted to see him so bad that I ended up taking one of dad's cars. Michelle would not let me go by myself insisting that she would go with me just in case."
"Your dad must have been pissed. Did you make it to New York?"
"No, we made as far as Virginia though when a State Trooper pulled us over. Said that dad had reported the car stolen and really did everything he could think of to scare the daylights out of us until dad got there to get us. I was scared out of my wits trying not to bawl my eyes out every time the trooper looked at us and all the while Michelle sat there right beside me holding my hand, stroking my hair telling me that everything was going to be all right."
"I always thought she seemed like a real sweet person. How'd the two of you become friends?"
"Believe it or not, Michelle was the nerdy girl in school and that made her a target of the queen of our school Simone Westlake. If anyone lived the clichéd teen movie bitch life it was Simone. Head Cheerleader, boyfriend was the quarterback of the football team, she set what fashion was worn at our school from her freshman year on and she had this mad on for Michelle like you wouldn't believe. To this day, I don't know why she felt like that. Michelle was the new girl, the nerdy girl like I said and kept to herself, I mean she had like zero friends back then and never bothered any one. Every day at lunch, Michelle would sit by herself in the quad until Simone and her slutty gang of cheer whores would go over and give her a hard time until they made her cry. I got sick of seeing it happen day after day so Lissa and I went over and put a stop to it."
"Just like that huh?"
"Well I did threaten to ruin the nose job Simone got the summer before if she didn't leave our new friend alone."
Alex laughs. "Nice."
"After that we made Michelle sit with us during lunch, got her to open up more and more before you know it we were inseparable."
"Sounds like she was lucky to have found you guys."
"We used to think that but later on Lissa and I came to realize that we were the lucky ones because friends like Michelle don't come along all that often. You got to hold onto them as long as you can," She begins to sniffle, thoughts of her friend out there alone or worse dead. Alex puts an arm around her and pulls her to his shoulder.
"Hey, it's okay. Everything's going to work out for the best," He says stroking her hair.
"I hope you're right."
"Of course I'm right. I was right in making Chinese for us tonight wasn't I?"
"You ordered Chinese, you didn't make it."
"True but no one orders Chinese the way I do. I've got down to an art form really."
"So I should hang you in my gallery then?"
"The Art Of Ordering Chinese. Catchy right?"
She giggles a little. "Hokey is more like it but hokey is good right now. How is it, if you and Kenneth are such good friends that he never showed you how to cook?"
"Oh he tried a couple of times but I just don't have the patience for it. If I have a menu and a phone that's all the time I want to put into it. I usually have way more important things to do."
"You do huh?" She asks wrapping her arms around him and pulling his face down to hers.
He leans in and lightly kisses her lips tasting the wine on them. Her lips part allowing his tongue to slide in and meld with hers. After several long, passion filled moments pass Alex pulls back.
"I think maybe we should go inside," he says. She nods and follows him in. While he refills the wine glasses she discards her shoes and curls up on his couch.
He offers her the glass but she declines. "I'm good," She tells him.
"Should we continue what we started out there?" He asks. She nods and he pulls her into his arms.
Their lips meet again and she begins to hungrily suck his tongue into her mouth as his strong hands roam across her back. She begins to unbutton his shirt so he slips his hands underneath the back of her blouse marveling at the heat radiating from her bare skin. Their kisses become more ardent as she strips off his shirt dropping it to the floor beside them before sliding her hands over his sculpted hairless chest. He groans as she teases his nipples and again when she stops kissing his lips but moves to his earlobe instead.
"I can't believe what we're about to do but I'm so hot right now I don't want to stop," She whispers sexily while nipping at his ear.
"Oh God Addison, I don't either," He says. "Bedroom?"
"Yes, hurry," She whispers.
He doesn't answer with words but with action as he pulls her up with him then carries her to the bedroom. He lays her on the bed where she quickly starts to undress but he stops her.
"Slow down baby I want us to take our time," He tells her as he methodically begins to unbutton her blouse.
"I thought if you had the menu and phone you didn't want to waste time?" She asks with a giggle.
"That's just with food. Making love to you, that I want to savor as long as possible. That okay with you sexy?" He asks as he kisses her exposed neck.
"Oh," She sighs as he continues kissing his way down her tanned chest pausing to appreciate her up swept breasts. Her nipples are almost painfully erect by the time he sucks the first one into his mouth. A jolt of pleasure shoots from her nipple straight to her pussy causing it to spasm. Loudly she sighs as he continues his gentle suckling from nipple to nipple. He rises up and captures her mouth kissing her passionately as he sheds his own shirt.
"Are you okay with this?" He asks before going any further.
"No, you're wearing way too many clothes," She jokes tugging his belt loose. He chuckles as he gets to his feet kicking off his shoes and dropping his pants. "No undies huh?"
He blushes slightly. "Sorry, old habit."
"I like it!" She tells him. Reaching out, she grabs his hard cock giving it a gentle squeeze. "I like this too."
It's his turn to groan as she pulls him onto the bed using his hard shaft as a kind of leash. Once on the bed he kneels down and removes the rest of her clothing marveling at her petite naked frame.
"You are so beautiful," He tells her.
"Only when I'm naked," She teases him rubbing her hands along her breasts.
"All the time," He manages to utter as she plays with her nipples.
The teasing becomes too much for him so he moves to her pressing his body to her kissing her firmly. She's already so slick he slides right into her without much pushing.
"Oh yes!" She cries out.
He starts to pull back and apologize if he's gone too far but she latches her legs around his hips pulling him back into her.
"It's fine, I want you to fuck me," She whispers to him.
He nods his head and begins to thrust in and out slowly savoring the feeling of being inside her. Her ragged breaths turn into moans and then shouts of ecstasy as he picks up momentum. Feeling his impending release rushing through him like a freight train down a steep hill his conscious mind wonders about pulling out or staying in.
"Oh God Addison, it feels so good!" He exclaims.
"For me too... you're so good at fucking me!" She shouts climaxing again.
"Fuck, I'm going to cum."
"Me too! Do it in me Alex, I want to feel it!" She shouts at him between ragged breaths. Her legs tighten around his thighs pulling him into her as she feels him grow steely hard inside her.
"Argh!" He shouts letting loose a torrent of cum as she peaks again. He looks down at her contented face and kisses her lips.
"Thank you Alex," She tells him as she pulls him down to lay with her.
Naked they snuggle together basking in the afterglow before falling asleep in each other's arms.
The moon has reached its peak in the night sky when the lights finally dim in my target building. "Wakey wakey, hands off snakey," I hear Ricky saying. I snap awake and raise my handgun with my bad shoulder wincing as the stabbing pain shoots through my shoulder. "Man, I thought you were gonna sleep all night."
I don't answer my delusion and check my watch instead trying to disregard the pain and him at the same time.
"You've been out nearly two hours," He helpfully states. "You're lucky we found such a good hidey hole."
I stretch my arm feeling the stiffness in my shoulder along with the pain.
"Ignoring me. Is that your tactic now? That's not going to work, I'm in your head remember."
"Damn it Rick, I need to focus here," I finally say just to shut him up.
"Right, hot girlfriend needs help. Got ya," He says. "What's next on the agenda then?"
"I need to get the keys for the Aid Station and she's not my girlfriend."
"If you say so Grayson but I've got to tell you, if she was my friend I'd be doing whatever it took to make her my girlfriend."
"You're dead Rick and hell you were married too you can't have a girlfriend. The hell am I doing arguing with you anyway? I've got to get those keys and I'm sure Ballo has a set with him."
"You plan on killing him?"
The slap I saw on the monitor flutters through my mind. "It's under serious consideration at the moment."
"All right... Uh Grayson, you're bleeding pretty bad again."
I look down and notice that my bandages are nearly soaked through and that I'm still bleeding. "Can't worry about it now, I'm too close."
The sweat from my brow has attracted gnats and other bugs that I mildly wave away as I begin moving towards the building. I time the guard patrols and find that I have about a five to seven minute window to make across the open ground to the building were Ballo is holed up. When the patrol disappears from view I double time it across the open ground. No alarms are raised and no weapons discharged so I begin looking for a way into the building.
"Hold up? Do you smell that?" Ricky asks stopping me at the corner of the building.
"Smoke. Cigarette smoke," I answer keeping my voice low.
"Those things are killers," He states.
I glance around and at the rear of the building a militia member taking a smoke break. Creeping up behind him, I slowly unsheathe my knife and wait for him to lower the cigarette. As he lowers it to blow smoke I strike bringing my free hand up to cover his mouth I slice the man's neck from ear to ear then quickly stab him in the heart and near both leg arteries ensuring a quick and quiet death. Arterial blood flies out of his neck bathing the ground in front of us. His blood glistens black in the dark night as it pools at his feet. It takes mere seconds for the man to die. "Okay so you aren't as rusty as I thought you were. With just one arm too, that's impressive even for you old man," Ricky says.
I nod and hide the man's body in some nearby bushes but not before relieving him of his sidearm, a nice .45. Unless someone comes to check on him soon, his blood will soak into the ground and be gone in a matter of hours.
"Don't forget to check the weapon and make sure it's not just for show," Ricky reminds me.
"Come one Ricky, I'm not an amateur ya know," I tell him.
I check and make sure his weapon is loaded and ready for firing when I spot a partially opened side window.
"Need a boost?" Ricky asks helpfully and in my state, I nearly tell him yes before remembering he's just in my head.
I manage to make my way inside with little to no noise, maybe I'm part monkey after all. Looking around I find I'm in some sort of office so quietly I creep out and make my way down the corridor checking room after room as I go hoping that I don't find anyone. Finally I happen upon the bedroom where Ballo lays sleeping, thankfully alone. Just the sight of the man causes me to grit my teeth when the thought of all the things he could have done to Michelle flash through my mind.
"Not yet," Ricky says. "You need to find out if she's still here and where the keys are first."
I nod and snag an extra pillow from off the bed then look down at the sleeping man. Instead of shoving it over his face and shooting him I place the pillow over his right knee and squeeze the trigger. The pillow muffles the sound of the gun but not his scream as the bullet tears through his knee. He looks up at me as I point the gun at his face and with my other hand push a finger to my lips. "Quiet or the next one goes into your brain," I tell him. He clutches at his destroyed knee but only whimpers as he nods at me. "If anyone comes, convince them it was just a bad dream or a spider, whatever scares a big bad man such as yourself." Again he nods and I can see hate boiling behind his eyes.
"What do you want?" He asks in Arabic.
"I'm here for the woman. Where is she?"
"The American, I should have known. She has caused me nothing but trouble," He says in English.
"Tell me where she is and you'll get no more trouble," I respond in kind.
He chuckles. "Do you think I'm a fool? I tell you where she is and you kill me, not much incentive for me to tell you, now is it?"
"You still have one functioning knee," I tell him. "Not to mention, ankles, wrists, shoulder's elbows... I can get really creative until you tell me what I want to know."
"You American's, always think that you're the scariest thing around. I have seen and done things you cannot possibly imagine. Do your worst," He asks wrapping part of his sheet around his shattered knee to stem the blood flow.
"Do you want to know what it's like to be gut shot?" I ask him. "If I do it just right, I'll perforate your bowels, emptying your waste into your bloodstream. It's a real nasty way to go, you burn up with fever, you see things that aren't there and then there's the pain. The pain is excruciating and it last for days. Now if you're lucky, I'll slip and sever your spinal column but well you'd have to be pretty damn lucky for that to happen." I tell him placing the pillow over the barrel of the gun.
"Wait, Wait!" He cries out.
"No more waiting, tell me now!" I say as my finger tenses on the trigger.
"The Aid Station! She's locked in the Aid Station with the others!" He tells me.
"Keys?" I ask.
"Only the guard has them. You'll have to get them from him."
"If you're lying, I will come back and finish what I started," I assure him and start towards the door but the arrogant bastard he is, he can't help but taunt me.
"She is there but you are too late. That is where I took her the first time, in the dirt like an animal," He sneers. "At first she was fighting me, but by the end, she laid there and took it like a good little broken toy. Be sure to save a bullet for her. She will be begging you for it. Go and end her nightmare."
"Shoot this piece of shit Grayson," I hear Ricky say but I'm already squeezing the trigger. Ballo looks shocked as my bullet puts a neat little hole in his forehead.
"Just couldn't keep your mouth shut could you?" I ask his corpse.
I snap a couple of shots with the cell phone Trent gave me and send them to him with a text. "Job Done. Send Chopper."
While I wait for his response I wipe down the gun and make sure, it's free of my prints in case Trent tries to pull a fast one and sell me out on this later on. The phone beeps with his incoming message.
"Stay put. Chopper inbound." I read off the phone.
I wipe it down as well put it on the floor stomping it into oblivion. Easing back out the same window I crouch in the darkness as I hear some guards knocking on Ballo's door. I wait until they make entry to the building then dash across the open expanse to the Aid station. As I'm trying to figure how to pick the lock, I hear one of the patrolling guards come out of Ballo's to raise the alarm. I swing the barrel of the M4 up, locate the man, now looking at me and fire two shots at him. He falls to the ground dead and even though my gunfire was suppressed, you can't suppress the sonic boom of a bullet.
"Fuck it!" I exclaim spinning back to the door and shooting off the lock. I yank the chain off and pull open the door and am greeted by a mass of prisoners rushing to get out.
"Left!" I shout in Mandinka and hope some of them understand. "Go left to the fence, there's a way under it."
Several of them follow my instructions even a couple of them stop and grab the AK's off the dead militia men. Alarms begin blaring and the whole thing is turning into a cluster fuck at a rapid pace. I grab a man that's leaving and shove Michelle's picture in his face.
"Have you seen this woman? Where is she?" He shake his head and pulls away as gunfire begins sounding. I repeat the procedure several more times all with the same response as I move deeper into the building. Finally, a teenage girl runs to me and grabs my hand.
"Miss Michelle, you are here for her, yes?" she asks me in broken but understandable English.
"Michelle, yes I'm here for Michelle," I tell her my head starting to swim as the adrenaline begins to wear off. "Where is she?"
"That room there is where they keep her. Come, I take you," She says point to a chained off room to my left.
"No, you need to go," I tell her as I try to focus my vision that's rapidly beginning to blur.
The adrenaline I've been running on is petering out and soon I'll be crashing. I know I'm fighting a losing battle with consciousness as the color starts to drain from the world around me so I press on anxious to free Michelle before then. The girl ignores my order, grabs my hand and tugs me along towards the door. Slouched against the wall of the Aid station I'm smearing my blood along behind me as I slide along it but I fail to notice it.
"Michelle, get away from the door!" I give her a moment and make sure my little helper is behind me before shooting the locking mechanism.
With my last ounce of strength I kick open the door and then slide down the wall to a seated position just to the side of the doorway.
"Get her out of there," I tell the girl as my vision starts to fade.
"Sending a kid to finish your mission is kind of weak Grayson," Ricky tells me.
"Ricky, shut the fuck up." I manage to say before passing out.
"Miss Michelle!" Yacine yells as she rushes inside.
Michelle who was huddled in the corner rises to her feet and catches the girl in a hug.
"Yacine, what's going on?" She asks.
Yacine pulls her towards the door. "Come, your friend needs help. Hurry!"
"My friend, I don't understand?" She asks confused but Yacine tugs her relentlessly to the door of the cell.
Michelle risks a peek out the door and sees the figure of a man propped against the wall.
"Hurry, he has been hurt," Yacine insists tugging towards the slumped figure.
Finally she recognizes the face of the man there in the darkness.
"Kenny!" she cries out dropping to her knees beside me. She wraps her arms around me and squeezes me tight waking me from the darkness I was slipping into.
"Oh my God Kenny, what are you doing here?" She asks then getting a good look at my shirt and my blood trail along the wall she says. "You're bleeding!"
"You're okay. Really okay," I tell her trying not to slur my words too much.
"Yes, I'm okay," She tells me as I reach up and stroke her cheek making sure that she's real. My fingers leave a smudge of blood on her cheek, a stark red against her tanned face. I pull my map out and press it into her hand.
"Take this... there's a dock about two hours walk from here," I look at the girl. "Do you know it?" I ask her. Slowly she nods her head. "Good, you need to take here there... quick as you can. They'll be a boat coming..."
"No, I'm not leaving you Kenny," Michelle says hear voice choked with emotion.
"You can't carry me... You have to go," I tell her. "Michelle, I'm sorry... I got here... soon as I could."
"You did great, you really did," she says feeling her tears flowing freely. "but... but you still have to get me home, okay? Your job's not done yet."
Yacine looks from the man to Michelle and back then leaps to her feet and rushes out into the compound.
"You have... to go," I tell her. "Please."
She shakes her head. "No, I can't do this without you. I won't, do you hear me Kenny?"
She yanks open my shirt and sees the bandages I put on earlier are soaked in blood. "You're bleeding out," She says. "Keep still."
"I like this one Grayson, she takes charge and doesn't take your shit," Ricky says, his head popping up behind Michelle showing me that he's back. "Why haven't you married this girl yet?"
"I would have... would have liked to... but she left me," I tell him aloud.
Michelle gasps when she hears the words but one look at my face and she knows I'm talking to someone that isn't there.
"I'm not leaving you, not again Kenny. You can't leave me either, okay," She says.
Her words fall on deaf ears however as my world fades to black on me. "I'm losing him. I can't lose him, not now!" She tells herself hopping up on her feet and heading towards the rack of aid supplies.
Quickly she runs to a medical cabinet and breaks the glass out of it. She grabs some bandages and returns. Kneeling back down she removes and discards the soaked bandages from early and applies some new ones.
"Kenny, are you with me?" She asks but doesn't get a response so she smacks my face rousing me.
"Michelle... Hey..." I slur but smile when I see her pretty face in front of me.
"Hey yourself, hold this here and try to keep pressure on it," She tells me pulling my hand up and over the bandages.
My hand stays there trying weakly to hold the one on the front in place.
"Left you huh? What'd you do to run her off, tell her your life story or something?" Ricky says.
"I kissed her." I say aloud looking past Michelle. "She's beautiful so I just... I had to ya know?"
"Stay with me Kenny," She says pulling my chin so I'm facing her.
"So pretty... I always thought so, you know? You hated that I saw you wearing glasses but I liked them," I babble at her.
"I still have them at home, Kenny. You get me there and I'll wear them for you, deal?" She asks but doesn't get a response.
I'm too far gone down the rabbit hole to answer.
"Damn it Kenny, you're stronger than this. You didn't quit your SEAL training when it got tough, you walked through war zones and made it home, hell, you swam with a Great White and it backed down, you can survive this damn it! Don't you dare give up on me now! Please Kenny, I need you okay. Don't leave me!"
Tears begins to fill her eyes as she presses her forehead to my and whispers. "Please don't leave me."
She nearly begins to sob when Yacine races back into the aid station with her father and two other men from their village in tow.
"I brought them to help us!" Yacine says.
"We owe you both our lives," Yacine's father says his native tongue holding up his splinted arm as she translates. He points to me and then to his men. They kneel down to grab me but Michelle stops them. Gathering her wits and pushing her emotions to the back burner she tells them.
"I need to stop his bleeding before we can move him," Michelle tells them. She reaches over, pulls my pistol from the holster, and runs over to the locked door of the operating room.
"Okay, remember what he showed you," She tells herself looking down at the pistol. "Safety off, aim and squeeze."
She jumps at the sound of the shot echoing in the small room but it worked. The wood around the lock splinters allowing her to kick the door open. She runs inside, Yacine at her heels to offer help.
"Grab me a bag sweetie and toss everything inside it as I hand it to you."
Yacine nods and the two begin to work. Michelle quickly loads up the bag with as many bandages, drugs and equipment as she can then turns back to a cabinet.
"Come on," She mutters her hands shaking as she tries to find some coagulants that will stop the bleeding if just temporarily. "Where is it?" Finally she spots what she's looking for and grabs the bag of medical gear. "Okay Yacine, let's get out of here."
Outside the Aid station chaos reigns, alarms are blaring, gunfire is erupting from all over the compound as several of the once imprisoned villagers have taken up arms and are fighting the militia.
Meanwhile inside, Michelle is busy dumping the coagulants over both the entrance and exit wounds.
"We must go now," Yacine's father states. Michelle nods and reapplies the bandages. The pain that shoots through me jars me from unconsciousness and I groan.
"I know it hurts Kenny, but you're supposed to be the tough guy remember?"
I manage a nod and the men lift me, one under each arm and follow Yacine's father to the door.
"Better give him the gun. It's not much use to you right now," Ricky says waking me for a moment.
"Give him... this," I tell Michelle weakly nodding down towards the M4. She nods and takes the weapon from over my shoulder and hands to Yacine's father.
"Are we ready?" He asks Yacine who nods. "All right, to the village."
Yacine's father leads us out followed by his men that are carrying me, then Yacine who is right with Michelle.
In the distance I hear the rotors of a chopper coming in and am kind of surprised that Trent kept his word.
"That's our ride," I murmur but the men carrying me pay no heed, they don't understand English and even if they did, I'm in no position to be giving orders.
We move quickly towards the rear of the compound dodging militia as we go. As we move into the tree line, my ears pick up what sounds like something sizzling overhead.
"I don't think that's a transport chopper," Ricky says.
"Down!" I shout out as my mind makes the connection of what that sounds is.
I manage to topple the guys carrying me and the rest follow suit while nearby the compound explodes as two missiles strike the Aid Building and the Barracks building. I feel the heat from the explosions wash over us just after the shockwave rocks our bodies. More explosions erupt as additional missiles and Gatling gun fire hit the command building and vehicles. The whole place is awash in fire as death rains down from the gunship above. Luck was with us as we are just far enough away from the kill zone in a little gully just south of the camp. Michelle crawls to us pushing Yacine ahead of her.
"Make sure your father's okay," She orders her and then covers her body with mine as the explosions continue. Most people that aren't used to combat would be screaming their heads off at this point wondering when the next sound they hear is that of the Pearly Gates being opened for them but not Michelle. She lays there covering me, clutching me tightly but quiet as a field mouse. I'd admire her courage if I wasn't already unconsciousness. The jungle is lit up as bright as day as the fire's begin to rage out of control.
"Everyone keep still," Michelle tells the others as the chopper makes a few lazy circles around the compound making sure that everyone there is dead. "You know I'm starting to believe that the guys aren't lying when they say things have a tendency to blow up around you? Kenny, can you hear me?" She asks when I don't answer. "Don't be dead, don't you dare be dead."