A NEW LIFE
Arms akimbo, Nadir Kahn stared aghast at the expensive, India ink splattering his new blue Armani suit. A sharp crack immediately filled the tense atmosphere. Ducking, he felt metal scrape his skull as the remaining parts of a fountain pen lodged in the wall behind him.
Cautiously straightening up, he rubbed his head. In his peripheral vision, Nadir noticed that the new man, Darius, had not been so lucky. The fresh recruit lay sprawled on the carpet, nervously dabbing his dark cheek. An Etruscan vase had left tiny cuts, and if Nadir had his guess, an inevitable bruise would follow.
"We are on an Indian Reservation not the ever-loving C.I.A. headquarters. No one would have seen the pair of you. You could have played tiddly-winks with the target in the amount of time you wasted," the voice murmured. Nadir shivered, and the hair on the back of his neck stood up. The owner of that voice was at his most dangerous when it was under control.
"Not one single man or woman is willing to discuss 'The Angel', even under duress." Nadir wiped at his ruined pants with a wilted handkerchief.
Twirling in his leather chair, exposing a broad back to the other men, the voices' owner placed pale hands behind his head. Perusing the fourth story window he queried, "I trust you have already disposed of the body?"
Darius stood to his feet, hard put to keep an expressionless face. "Yes, but boss we can't kill the entire village!"
In a heartbeat, cold fingers wrapped painfully around Darius' throat. "Ah, Mr. Santiago, your lack of faith saddens me," the silky voice hissed.
Eyes bulging, Darius frantically pried at long, thin fingers while his feet slowly left the floor. Excruciating pressure exploded in his chest. Tortured lungs desperately fought for air as his vision began to fade.
"Release him before you do some damage, we need him," Nadir mopping his forehead, quietly reminded his long-time friend.
Seething, the voice released the coughing man dropping him down on his backside. "Then make sure he does his job, Kahn. We don't have long before Interpol infiltrates this area. And when they do, I intend on being long gone."
The Secret is out.
"You look like you could sleep a week, go home and I'll finish up here."
"Won't have to tell me twice," Dr. Raoul Chaney stretched long arms above his sun-bleached head. Bending backward he groaned. Stifling a yawn, he proceeded to hang his lab coat on an antique clothes hook in his office.
Surveying the faded room, Raoul loosed a satisfied smile. Thanks to Christine, this worn, faded clinic was the best in the Indian Nations. It could top some state-side.
He glanced over at his companion. She continued to balance delicately on a rickety office chair. Her unusual-colored dark hair was in a chignon filled with various pencils. The woman was oblivious to the mischievous curls trying to escape their confines.
Humming a contemporary tune, she deftly shut down the clinic's computer, aptly named Methuselah.
"How can you be so perky after a busy day like today? I have yet to understand," Raoul teased as he ambled to the rear of the room. Shaking his head, he checked the back door alarm. Unlocked again. Nurse Christine Daae seemed to never remember it.
"My day has just begun. Its dusk and I still have to set up for tomorrow's Obstetrics Clinic." She smiled lopsidedly at her dearest friend.
Raoul frowned, deepening the grooves that lined his concerned eyes. "Let Miriam do that for once, Christine." Sighing, he decided to broach the elephant in the room. "Aren't you a little worried about the rumors?"
Rubbing her temples, Christine groused, "Unless pigs fly, I am not going to uproot my life again. I'm getting too old. If I am exposed, the Cherokee will have to deal with it. Maybe they'll be like others and think it preposterous anyway. Remember it took an earthquake to convince you of the situation's validity in Peru."
Ignoring Raoul's disgruntled snort, she pat his arm, watching the emotions chase across her friend's expressive, open face.
Murmuring contritely, Christine reached up to muss his immaculate hair, noting the silver streaks that highlighted the yellow. "Besides, we both know I can't take you with me if I have to go. Who could I trust to watch after Connie? She has a career now. That baby has endured a lifetime of servitude with a missionary nurse for a mother. It is her time to shine."
"What about Meg," Raoul asked.
Christine smiled at the thought of her bubbly friend Meg. "She can't do it by herself, Raoul." Christine giggled, "Our international model is chasing some hot Baron, as we speak."
Raoul decided to resume and old disagreement. The nervous doctor took a deep breath. He wanted, no, he needed to spill forth his speech. After all, he had mentally practiced it for a lifetime.
Taking her delicate hands in one of his warm ones, he held them close to his heart. Tilting her chin up, he searched her brown eyes. "You know how I feel, Christine. We aren't children shyly trying out first kisses anymore. Heck, we aren't even young adults for that matter. I was furious with Father for moving to Paris. When I finally made it back, you had married and disappeared.
"When we met again in Peru, well, I just knew it was fate." He lightly rubbed her chin with his thumb. "Is it Gaston? He has been gone for twenty-two years. I'm sure he wouldn't want you to stay alone forever. Christine, I may have some wear on me but..."
Christine placed a small, pink-nailed finger across Raoul's lips. As she looked into his earnest, hurt eyes, she felt tears well up in her own. "I know that Gaston wouldn't have wanted me to stay alone. He was an unselfish young man. He's not the reason I avoid commitment. Connie enabled me to move on easier than I would have. Life has a way of sneaking up on a person when there is a child."
Looking down to avoid his blue eyes, she gently pulled her hands from his grasp. Absently, she began to fiddle with a button on Raoul's shirt. A blush fanned up her neck to adorn her cheeks. "You don't know the times I almost... asked you to come home with me, Raoul." She rapidly spoke.
Bemused, he reached down for her chin once more. Cupping her face, he softly asked, 'Why didn't you?"
Making love like that would be just as dangerous as a long-term commitment." She murmured as she tilted her face into his hand. Christine allowed herself to stay that way for a couple of minutes. Oh, just to enjoy Raoul's familiar, safe arms around her. What would forever be like in his arms?
Catching a whiff of his cologne, she felt a protective urge shoot through her. Sadly, she pushed him away. "I watched Papa spend the rest of his life keeping 'his girls' safe, Raoul. I can't do that to you. This world isn't such a big place anymore.
"Satellites, G.P.S., triple agents, D.N.A. and witness protection have narrowed its confines. There is almost no place left to hide. Life out there is like a science fiction movie. For a marriage, I have to want you beside me no matter what the consequences. I can't do that. I won't watch you be hurt or imprisoned for my sake."
With great effort, Raoul held his tongue.
"I have been selfish too long. The biggest example? I kept my baby beside me. I didn't want some government foster-care watching over her. She followed me through jungles, deserts...you name it. Was it a wrong decision? I don't know. What I do know is: At this stage of the game, I can't protect my mature child from what life will hurl her way.
"It was a major effort on my part to decide that Connie would be safer if we split up. As a star, her life will be under the media microscope; the paparazzi will make it obvious that a mother-figure is nowhere around. What better place than to hide her in plain sight? No one will think to question the need for body guards."
"General Daae wouldn't have wanted you living alone, Christine!"
"Au contraire. Things were closing in. Papa very much knew I would be alone in this world, except maybe for the Angel of Music."
Raoul felt himself relax, a smile reluctantly twitched at his lips. He didn't understand it, but true relaxation was a luxury given to him by Christine alone. With the slightest of touches she seemed to make the world fade away. "You still believe in that old story of the General's?"
She playfully smacked at his arm. "I remember a tow-headed boy, who sat at his feet begging for more 'dark stories of the north,'" she reminisced.
"Ah, those times were a feast of the senses. Sweet chocolate that melted in your mouth. First class violin concertos to fall asleep by, best of all, were his stories about the escapades of Little Lotte," Raoul sighed. "Those were the days."
Christine giggled, "Don't forget one drowned rat that pulled my red scarf from the sea…"
The couple twirled around, startled, as the walls suddenly reverberated. The front door had crashed open, forcing the metal knob to sink into the brittle drywall raising a puff of white dust. Two sweaty, limping men rushed in. They awkwardly carried a copiously bleeding, unconscious youth between them.
Recognizing the men, Christine reacted first-directing them into the nearest examining room. Raoul followed.
The two battered men laid their burden down on the stretcher. Christine gasped. The youth was her neighbor, Jackson Man Bear! His compatriots were Leon Two Panthers and Michael Hawk.
"What happened? Jackson is a good kid who always avoids fights!" Observing the carnage, she groaned, "Raoul, he is just fifteen years old!"
"They took a two-by-four to his legs, Angel," Michael gasped, running over to the sink to spit out a tooth.
"Shh… don't call her that," Growled Raoul, as he opened the boy's eyelids. The Cherokee people's tendency to call her Angel ran over his spine like nails on a chalkboard. With professional ease, he moved his flashlight beam from one eye to the other.
"Are either of you hurt badly," Christine asked, while efficiently taking the patient's blood pressure.
With great dignity, and a glare at Raoul, Leon Two Panthers stated, "We will live, Angel, just see to Jackson."
"Who? Who did this, Leon?"
"Death did this, Dr. Chaney. He has already visited Brian Deer-Tracker. Michael and I left right after tonight's council meeting. We happened to hear Jackson moaning in the woods behind the library. It looks like he and Brian put up one hell of a fight. Whoever it was would've killed us too, but I guess we were left as a message. When I woke up, Brian's body had disappeared, and Jackson was fading fast."
A gurgling gasp erupted from Jackson. "Run..."
"Don't talk, Mr. Two Bears, we have to get you to the city hospital. Christine call an ambulance," Raoul ordered tersely.
Jackson flailed his blood soaked hair. "No… he… wants Angel."
Within a nano-second Jackson's body stiffened and began to twitch in the throes of a seizure. The boy stopped as suddenly as he started, eyes staring into space. Raoul felt for a carotid pulse. "No pulse!" Placing his hands over the boy's heart he ordered, "Pull the crash cart over here!"
Ignoring Raoul, Christine wiggled to the head of the gurney and placed her hands on either side of Jackson's face.
"Christine, have you lost it? We need to shock him now or we won't revive him! You men bring me that cart!" Raoul was beginning to pant as he compressed the boy's chest. "I need the ambu bag! Christine! I could use some help here!"
Instead of bringing the defibrillator, Leon and Michael started to eerily chant an ancient death dirge. Christine simultaneously lowered her forehead to Jackson's. Raoul almost forgot to keep up the compressions when a brilliant, white light drifted up from under the gurney. Fog like, it swirled to encompass Jackson and himself. Unable to see, the other men stopped chanting. They strained and pulled at sore leg muscles, it was if they were frozen to the floor.
Raoul began to growl like a bear. The frustrated braves could hear the doctor's teeth grind together. The stretcher began to shimmy as the fog began to dissipate. Raoul yelled in alarm when his arms began to jerk.
Unable to tear his hands from Jackson, Raoul felt white-hot pain scorch his palms. Leon and Michael's feet loosened, enabling them to back up, knocking over equipment in their haste. To their horror, a jolt of blue colored electricity emerged from Jackson's chest. It rapidly circled up Raoul's arm. The light writhed and twisted, resembling a cobra. The snake hissed and struck repeatedly at the frantic doctor.
Thrown from the patient to the floor, the panicked man rolled to his feet. Rubbing his eyes, Raoul had the presence of mind to decide; despite the hallucination, to bring the crash cart himself!
Leon grasped Raoul's shoulders in an iron grip. As the doctor started to struggle, the muscled brave placed a light choke-hold on him. Once he had Raoul's attention, he nodded toward the patient in awe. "You might want to see this, Dr. Chaney."
Raoul gasped. Christine! Oh my God, he had forgotten Christine! Was she alright? Once he had his bearings, his shoulders sagged in relief. She appeared unharmed still forehead to forehead with Jackson. Her doe-like brown eyes continued to stay closed with dark lashes leaving crescent shadows on her ashen cheeks.
Eyes squeezed shut, mouth moving in silent supplication; Christine lifted her head. She seemed oblivious to the patient's blood smeared across her face. Sliding along the stretcher the nurse placed her red-stained fingers over the boy's heart.
With a phlemic gasp, Jackson's eyes jerked open. His chest began to rise and fall in a predictable rhythm. Christine shakily left his chest to run her hands down his sides. She cringed when she felt what was left of human legs. Bones protruded in several places, skin was missing, and his feet twisted at odd angles.
Sliding to his knees, Raoul watched grim-lipped. So the rumors in Peru were true. He observed the scene playing out before him in an almost catatonic state. The patient's protruding bones, coupled with wet sucking sounds, moved! Raoul grimaced as high-pitched squelching noises, like a boot stuck in the mud, emitted from the patient's ankles. He nearly vomited with anxiety, as the bones slowly slid back into the twisted limbs. Cyanotic, cold feet righted themselves, limbs that minutes ago look like they needed amputation, straightened.
The doctor's disbelieving eyes watched as blood thickened to inch like caterpillars, crawling to return and fill open gashes. Horrific, deep, knife wounds closed, resembling puddles drying in the summer sun. Keening and squeaking in a rodent-like pitch, black clots fell out. They shimmied like jello, rolling across the floor as if tossed by an unseen hand. The clots stopped short of Christine, resembling birds flying into a brick wall. Jackson's long, black hair gained a healthy sheen.
Blood splattered and weaving, Christine leaned wearily against the wall and whispered, "Amen."
Jackson Man Bear once again, in a stronger voice urged, "Run Angel Run. They are close."
Leon hurriedly limped over to push the front door closed, then locked it. Dropping the blinds, he spoke softly. "She can't go outside, too much time has passed. They could be anywhere. Michael, you take her to the rooftops and leave that way. I will stay here." Looking at everyone, he grimly suggested, "We all need to say I alone brought Jackson in to Dr. Chaney."
The men looked at Raoul and he nodded. Jackson held his hand out to Christine, reaching out she placed it between both of hers. "Thank-you." He said solemnly.
She weakly smiled at him. It was happening again! Despite her earlier conviction, she couldn't let anything else hurt these people. Panic momentarily gnawed at her stomach, causing her legs to feel rubbery. On the run again. She was alone. Utterly, irrevocably alone. She couldn't rely on her father's knowledge this time.
A half sob stuck in her chest. Would she ever be able to live a normal life? "Raoul…Connie?" Christine implored, eyes begging.
Still trying to process what he had seen, Raoul grasped her shoulders. "Go Christine, I will watch her with my life." The blond man kissed the top of her head. Determinedly he opened the closet. Encased inside was the rooftop ladder. "Take care of her Mr. Hawke. Christine how will I know you are alright?"
Christine grimaced, "It could be a while, but I'll contact you, Raoul. When this calms down, talk to Connie, she unfortunately, has been through this."
"I hate to break this up, but you two need to hurry," Leon urged.
Michael climbed ahead, the group below heard the ensuing groan of the trap door. Raoul lifted a trembling Christine up past the first floor ceiling.
Leon Two Panthers watched stoically, muscled arms crossed. Darting a look at Raoul he mused under his breath, "The fact is... you may indeed have to give your life, Doc. We all might. The Angel's protection is imperative, at all costs."
While watching Christine's feet disappear, Raoul shook his burning hands. Dr. Chaney ordered in a detached voice, "Leon, now we have to make Jackson look like he is dead once again…and while we are at it: explain to me what just went on. Did pigs just fly?"