“Seventeen. Eighteen. Jesus! Nineteen. Come on! Twenty. One more for luck. Twenty one.”
Murdock collapsed onto his blanket on to the floor. He lay panting. Twenty one push ups. Pretty lame, Captain. Of course he was half starved, exhausted and apt to go into a flashback at any given moment so it wasn’t so bad, considering.
As his breathing slowed down he stayed lying there, forehead resting on forearm. The blanket was starting to smell pretty nasty he noticed. He dismissed the thought quickly. Might smell funky, but it still keeps me from freezing to death. This blanket is my friend, stinky or not. He’d spent an uncountable number of hours lying wrapped in it feeling sorry for himself, too scared to even try to sleep. The nightmares came as soon as he closed his eyes. Drowning and yet not drowning. Never actually reaching the peace of death, while constantly in terror that it was only a second away.
“The name. The name. The name.” The never ending demand, barely audible over the roar of the water. “The name. The name. The name.” Like a gnat in his ear.
Murdock shook his head, throwing off the memories. No. No more brooding. Got to stay focused. Got to stay healthy. Got to stay strong. A chance could come any time. Got to be ready for it.
Brooding wasn’t getting him out of that door and out of this hell-hole.
He rolled onto his back and started doing sit ups.
BA sat on his bunk, staring into darkness. He was cold, but his abused back was still too raw to allow him to wrap the blanket around his body. His neck felt especially cold. Cold and bare, stripped of his gold. He wondered where his jewellery was. Had the guards divided it between them, or were Kyle and Sevchenko hanging onto it? He wondered if that was how Sevchenko had got hold of enough money to stage this job, by stealing it over the years from his victims. BA could imagine that easily enough. A broken man handed a confession to sign. Signing anything put in front of him. Signing over the deed to his house. A house he wouldn’t need any more when they took him and his family out and shot them.
BA grimaced, tried to turn his mind away from such morbid thoughts. He thought about his friends instead, but those thoughts were hardly less morbid. Murdock had been uppermost in his thoughts lately. He wasn’t sure how long lately was, days or hours, but lately he’d been thinking about Murdock, because lately he’d been hearing Murdock. Hearing him screaming.
Murdock wasn’t far away, he knew for sure. BA had been hooded every time he’d been dragged him out of the cell. But as he’d struggled with the guards he’d sometimes heard them thump against metal, rather than stone. Another metal door. Another cell. Murdock.
The screams weren’t of pain, BA could tell. He could identify the different screams his friends let out, like a mother knows from her baby’s cry if its hungry, or lonely or sick. He knew Murdock was having nightmares. What did they do to you, fool? Sleep easy, man. They’ll pay.
The observation hatch opened suddenly and BA turned towards it, squinting at the shaft of light stabbing into the darkness. A face, un-identifiable to his dazzled eyes looked in at him . BA growled at the face and it disappeared again as the hatch was closed.
They think I’m an animal, BA thought. And he was happy to encourage the idea. They were so scared of him they wouldn’t think straight. They sure wouldn’t be ready for it when he did something smart.
Frankie woke up as someone jostled him passing his seat. He looked around the jet’s cabin blearily. Miller hurried on past him down the aisle. Frankie sighed and stretched. He hated trying to sleep sitting up. At this rate he’d be exhausted by the time they got to Albania.
He grimaced at the sounds of retching he could hear from the bathroom. Man, he thought, poor Miller. They’d had a bit of turbulence, she must have a sensitive stomach. He saw Madari glance at him, from a seat across the aisle. Seeing Frankie was awake Madari leaned across the aisle to speak to him.
“I need to talk to you before the London stop-over. I have a few concerns.”
Only a few? Frankie thought. He had about a thousand himself. Number one being whether he got to go home again at the end of this. Though it was only hours since he’d said goodbye to Rosita it already felt like a week. And even longer since saying goodbye to the kids. He’d told the boys he was going on location for a while. They had wanted to know all about the picture of course.
“It’s the story of a band of brave soldiers who go to rescue some friends in trouble,” Frankie told them. Luis said it sounded “ace” and Juan asked if there’d be lots of stuff blowing up. And Frankie hugged them for a long time.
He’d said goodbye to Rosita in the car after she drove them the gun club. Madari waited on the sidewalk, feigning fascination with the notice of the firing range’s opening hours and fees. For once Frankie didn’t talk much. He didn’t want her to hear his voice shaking.
“Hmm?” Frankie looked at Madari, who frowned.
“I’m sorry, you’re tired, we’ll talk later.” They both leaned back a moment as Hassan hurried past up the aisle.
“No, I’m fine,” Frankie insisted. “What’s bothering you, Colonel?”
“Two things in the main. One is you.” He looked embarrassed then. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to offend you. But I think we need to get one thing very clear. You’re not coming up that mountain with us.”
“I thought we…” Frankie began and them stopped as Hassan hurried past again down the aisle, bumping Frankie’s shoulder. “This plane is too damn small,” Frankie muttered. “Look, I thought we agreed you’re not ditching me.”
“I’m not, but I’m not taking you into combat either,” Madari said, firmly. “There is a town near the target. You and Doctor Sullivan are going to stay there in a hotel and wait for us to bring the team to you.”
“When you say bring the team to ‘you’ there, you mean ‘her’, don’t you?” Frankie demanded.
“Well, yes. But, Frankie, she can’t stay there alone. She needs to be guarded.”
The woman in question passed them then, Hassan leading her up the aisle to the bathroom.
“… throwing up, she won’t let me in.”
Madari frowned and turned to watch Maggie knock on the door of the bathroom and then go in.
“Have you talked to Maggie about this?” Frankie asked. “Because she’s not going to like being ditched either.”
Madari turned back to Frankie. “She will have to accept it.”
“Well, good luck with that one,” Frankie said. He was looking forward to that conversation. Madari just gave him a dubious look. Frankie smiled at him. Okay, he thought, if I want in on the rescue, god help me, it looks like I’ll have to work on him with the old Santana charm.
In the cause of buttering up the colonel, Frankie got up to get them both coffee. When he came back with it Madari was turned in his chair again, watching Hassan who was standing nervously outside the bathroom door.
“Is Miller sick?” Frankie asked sitting down again.
“I don’t know…”
Maggie came out of the bathroom, she spoke quietly to Hassan, who looked worried and went into the bathroom. Maggie came back up the aisle. Madari stood up.
“Doctor, what is wrong? Is Agent Miller ill or just airsick? Will she be better by the time we get to Albania?”
Maggie rested her doctor’s bag on the arm of a seat. Suddenly everyone in the cabin was looking at her.
“I’m sorry, Colonel, I can’t discuss her medical condition. But I can say that she definitely won’t be ‘better’ for a while yet.”
Wallace gasped and put a hand to her mouth, her eyes opened wide in surprise. Madari frowned, apparently baffled.
“I don’t understand, doctor. Are you saying she is…”
And from the bathroom they all heard Hassan’s shocked cry.
Maggie sighed as they all turned back to stare at her. “Well it seems the cat’s out of the bag on this one.”
In a moment Hassan stumbled out of the bathroom wearing the exact same expression Frankie had seen on BA right after the application of a pre-flight two by four to the head. Frankie wanted to run up and shake the man’s hand and congratulate him heartily. And thank him. Because suddenly Frankie Santana was back on the mountain.
Face lay on his bunk, feet hanging over the bottom edge. The slightest movement was agony to his beaten feet. The tiniest draught across the skin of his soles could make him grit his teeth and hiss in the cold air.
Unbelievably he’d found that his skin had only been broken a couple of time. The gorilla Sokoll was obviously well practised with that whip. Face felt as if his skin had been flayed down to the bone, but there were only a few shallow, if still agonising cuts. There was bruising though, the sensitive skin, that had been pale, was black and blue.
When they carried Face back to his cell he’d been almost unconscious from the pain and had spent hours lying in a daze. All he could see was Hannibal’s face, Hannibal’s eyes, giving him the strength to make it through. Just like in Vietnam. He gave them all strength. It’s what he does, Face thought. He’s got so much he strength he shares it, to help other people.
But does he have enough to get himself through this? Face saw what they were going to do. The best way to get at Hannibal wasn’t through physical pain, it was to force him to watch others in pain and be unable to stop it. That was Hannibal’s worst nightmare.
Face pulled the blanket closer around himself, moaning as the movement sent pain stabbing through his feet.
He wouldn’t be able to even try to walk again for several days and he’d be useless if any chance at escape came. That left a very bitter taste in his mouth. He hated the idea of having to be carried out like a bag of laundry supposing by some miracle rescue were to arrive.
Rescue. He’d dreamt of it again since the time he’d hallucinated Hannibal blasting in the door. This time it had simply been dark figures, a special operations squad, all in black, well armed. He’d woken with a cry as they burst into his cell in the dream, then lay back with a groan as he realised it was only his imagination, his desperation, conjuring up the rescuers. No-one is coming to rescue us, he thought. Even if we’ve been missed no one knows where we are.
“She’s off the mission,” Hassan said firmly, covering Miller’s legs with a blanket, before he stood up again.
“Abid, look, I’m not crippled, you know.” Miller was sitting beside Wallace, looking very embarrassed by all the attention. She pushed the blanket off her legs to the floor.
“She’s not climbing that mountain,” Hassan insisted, glaring at Madari. “Not in her condition.”
“I’m not arguing with you, Sergeant,” Madari said.
“But…” Miller began.
“No. I’m sorry, but I won’t risk it. Besides you are clearly feeling unwell because of your condition.”
“I could give her something for that,” Maggie said. “But I don’t know if you’ll want to take any drugs.” She turned towards Miller.
“I’d rather not.”
“Then she is off the mission,” Madari said, “We’ll have to rework the plan of attack to account for one less.”
“No you won’t,” Frankie said, “I’ll take her place.”
“Come on, Colonel. I’m telling you I’m fit enough to climb that mountain with you guys. Miller can stay at the hotel and guard the doctor. She can manage that, even in her condition.”
“If anybody else says ‘condition’, I’m going to kick his ass,” Miller said testily.
“Wait, since when is the doctor staying at a hotel?” Maggie said, frowning at Madari and Frankie.
“Ah yes, I was going to discuss that with you,” Madari said, gave Frankie a glare. “Later.”
“Well let’s discuss it now.” She stepped forward, close enough to make Madari take a step back. “You really think I’m going to sit and roll bandages and wait for you to come back? John and the others may need immediate medical attention.”
“Which all of us…” Madari glanced at Frankie. “Are trained to give. Doctor, it is better this way.”
“You think I can’t get up that mountain don’t you?”
“That’s not it,” Madari protested. He looked very uncomfortable, Frankie thought. Clearly he wasn’t used to dealing with a woman who talked back like Maggie.
“Then what? You know I was in Vietnam, I didn’t spend all that time in a MASH unit, I went on med-evac missions. I’ve been on the front line.”
“Doctor,” Madari snapped, suddenly losing the embarrassed look and frowning sternly. “I’ve made my decision. I am in command here. My word is final.”
Everyone stared at Maggie, waiting for the explosion. But instead she smiled.
“You know John tries that trick on me if I want to see a chick flick when we go to the movies.” Then she stopped smiling. “It doesn’t work for him either.”
Like the audience at a tennis match the gazes swung back to Madari, waiting for his next volley.
“It’s Hannibal I’m thinking of,” Madari said, changing tactics, his voice softer now. “He would never forgive me if I risked your life. And we need you to be safe and well. If you were hurt or even killed in the attack who would take care of the team, or any of us who might be injured on the mission?”
Maggie didn’t answer, looked thoughtful.
“We are a small team already, Doctor. If you come up the mountain with us I have to assign someone to protect you. We simply cannot afford that.”
“I think he’s right, Maggie,” Frankie said. She scowled at him and he swallowed nervously, but went on. “Johnny wouldn’t want you in danger. He’d kill us if anything happened to you.”
Maggie looked at them for a long moment, then she sighed heavily. “All right, you win. Evie and me will wait for you to bring the team down off the mountain. But…” She gave Madari a hard stare. “If anyone dies that I could have saved if I’d been there, I’m holding you…” she jabbed a finger at him, “…personally responsible.” She looked at Frankie. “And what about him? Does he get to go with you?”
Frankie looked at the colonel.
“I’m thinking about it.” Madari said, guardedly.
“That’s all I ask,” Frankie said, grinning. Maggie shook her head, made an expression of disgust.
The pilot’s voice came over the PA announcing they were about to begin their descent into London. Everyone took their seats. Frankie sat beside Madari who sighed and passed a weary hand over his eyes.
“Feisty lady.” Frankie said with a smile.
“Very,” Madari said, smiling slightly. Then he looked serious again. “I almost forgot the other concern I had. Before we file a flight plan in London I think we need to think about landing some where other than Tirana. It’s possible Kyle has someone watching the airport, and we are, well, a conspicuous group.”
“The guy we’re getting the guns off is meeting us in Tirana,” Frankie said. But he saw Madari’s point. They were indeed conspicuous.
“I know. We will have to travel there to meet him. Hopefully that won’t delay us too long.”
What would Johnny do? The words popped into Frankie’s head again.
“No, I’ve got a better idea. How long are we scheduled to stop over in London for?”
“That should be enough time.”
“You’ll see, Colonel. And you’ll learn about the number one, no arguments, most useful thing anyone in the movie business can have.”
“And what is that?”
“Contacts, Colonel. Contacts.”