A/N: Here is an offering for my loyal readers. This is my 50th (count 'em) story for ff, so I want to make it special for us all. This is, like my last major story, born from an idea proposed by Tanager36 – thanks!
Not that I am begging for reviews (we all know how ugly that can get), but wouldn't it be a sweet gift if I got 50 on the first chapter of my 50th? Just an idea (sniff); I'll understand if you can't, really (choke).
Anyway, the estute may notice characters from another CBS show I do not own in this chapter ("The Unit"). This is not a genuine crossover, but just a tiny guest appearance by the guys. Oh. I hope we all have so much fun!
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………Title: Stockholm Charlie
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. If I did, would I share them with you?
Jonas and Hector knelt in the clinging reeds of tall grass, huddled in a trampled-down space, under a canopy of thick trees. They were on a slight ridge overlooking the compound, and a dead soldier lay ignored beside them. Hector tracked Bob and Mack through a range finder as they approached a low, concrete building. It was completely out of place; obviously man-made, but so inappropriate in the center of the El Salvadoran jungle that it seemed to have dropped from the sky.
Jonas scanned the perimeter with his naked eyes, alert for signs of other guards. So far, intel had been correct. The one he had taken out easily, the man who lay beside him now, and only one other. The other guard had been perched lazily on top of the cement bunker, most of which extended underground. In the years of its existence, this particular compound had never been discovered, and was known only to a few soldiers. In crudely partitioned rooms inside, it was intended to house a cache of weapons, and political prisoners who had become too hot to hold elsewhere. Before Bob walked casually up to him while Mack appeared behind him and broke his neck, the soldier had not spent one moment worrying about the safety of this compound. In fact, he considered it a boring duty. The weapons room was temporarily empty – another shipment of arms should come through the jungle tomorrow – and there were only three prisoners.
There had been four until yesterday. The two guards had waited until almost dusk to drag the body from the bunker and bury it in the jungle. The prisoners were, for the most part, well-behaved; but it never hurt to take advantage of a situation. When the Senator finally succumbed to the malnutrition that plagued them all, the guards had moved the dead man into the hall visible to the other three cells, and beaten him without mercy. They let the others think they killed him that way, and then they left him lying there all day.
They kicked the body brutally out of the way in order to deliver the day's one meal of water and bread. Grubby fingers grabbed for the meager offerings, and the guard who spoke English teased them. "You get more thees day. We muy bueno to you, give you thees bastard's share!" He kicked the body again, and laughed as one by one, they turned their eyes away, but continued to eat.
Now, Bob caught that guard's boneless carcass as it slid off the bunker, after Mack killed him. Bob's voice crackled over Jonas's headset. "Snake Doctor, we're going in. Repeat, Operation Retrieval in action." He looked in the direction where he knew Jonas and Hector waited, even though he could not see them, while Mack jumped down off the bunker to join him.
They circled around the edge of the bunker, zeroing in on a round disk in the ground reminiscent of a sewer access panel, back home. Sitting near it was half a bucket of stale water, drowned flies floating lazily on its surface. A look of distaste crossed Mack's face, and he scanned the jungle, weapon at the ready. Bob tilted the disk up and dragged it to the side, immediately assailed by the odor of filth, and death. He exchanged a glance with Mack before he hung his machine gun over his shoulder and plunged down the steps into the darkness.
Once at the bottom of the steps, Bob switched on his high-powered flashlight. A narrow corridor ran the length of the bunker, three rooms on each side, just as their informant had said. Working quickly, he soon found that the first room on his left, the one for weapons, was empty. His heart twisted a little and his level of alertness heightened, if possible. The intel was bad. He worked his way through the rooms, studying what he found, then scurried back up to the surface, where his radio would work.
Bob's head popped out of the ground, momentarily startling Mack. He watched his partner's face, and knew before he heard the report that something had gone wrong. Bob spoke into his headset. "Snake Doctor. Intel is bogus. Repeat, intel is bogus. No weapons, and our date is not here."
Jonas frowned at the ground. "Anything?"
Bob nodded at the treeline. "I have three; two viable." The dead guards would have been happy to find that another of their prisoners had died during the night, but neither could be bothered to check on them that morning.
Jonas swore under his breath. This mission would still go down as a failure. They had not found the weapons, or the Senator. Still, he could not leave the other prisoners to rot. "Retrieve," he finally ground out. Through the range finder, Hector watched Bob take a breath of air, as if he were going under water, and then disappear into the bunker again.
Almost a full minute passed before Mack saw a head that definitely was not Bob's come toward the surface. As the man emerged, it was impossible to tell beneath the beard, the months of dirt, and the fear in his eyes, who he was. Mack simply grabbed him and helped the weakened man climb into the clearing. The prisoner immediately ducked his head and shaded his eyes from the daylight. He crouched silent and shaking beside Mack. While they were waiting for Bob's second retrieval, the man managed to open his eyes enough to see the bucket of water, and in a sudden movement Mack would not have thought him capable of, he vaulted the few feet to it and fell face-first amongst the flies. Mack could hear him gulping greedily, and he moved to stop him, but realized the man had been drinking this swill for so long, one more good drink probably wouldn't hurt him.
Another head appeared, and Mack heard Bob's voice. "Come on, man, help us out a little…" Apparently, this guy was even weaker. As Mack registered the long, stringy black hair and the dark beard over sunken cheeks, he wondered how long the guy had been held here. He leaned over to grab an emaciated arm, trying to shield the man's eyes a little – he was already crying from the light. As Bob pushed and Mack pulled, the skinny body that emerged fell sideways into the clearing. He was covered with bruises, and one arm was misshapen near the wrist from an old fracture that had never been set and healed incorrectly.
Bob scrambled up after him. He saw the first prisoner hunched over the bucket of water protectively, eyeing them with distrust. He turned his back to Mack. "There's a canteen in my pack," he said, and Bob felt Mack digging around in it, then felt the canvas container shoved into his hand. He popped the cap off and leaned over the second prisoner. The man was too weak to understand, so Bob dribbled some water over his fingers and pressed them to the man's lips. He sucked greedily, like a hungry baby, and made the connection the next time Bob tried to help him sit up a little and drink from the canteen.
He let the man have two good swallows, and wrenched the canteen easily back. The prisoner's dark eyes focused first on Bob, then wandered to take in Mack, his fellow prisoner, his surroundings, and finally, the body of the guard. He began to shiver. He worked his mouth a long time before sound rasped out. "C-Carlos," he whispered, and tried to push himself up further. "N-needs help."
Bob moved his body a little so that he blocked the prisoner's view of Carlos. Mack had taken the canteen and was trying use it to bribe the first prisoner away from the bucket. Bob looked into the watering, dark eyes. Pools of fear. He spoke quietly, even though he knew time was of the essence. "Don't worry about Carlos. We'll take care of Carlos. Can you tell me your name?"
The man just blinked at him, but suddenly the first prisoner half-crawled, half-jumped across the grass and grabbed the canteen from Mack. He took a long drink and then tilted his head towards the second prisoner. "That's Charlie," he informed them. "If he dies next, I want his shoes."