3:07 a.m. on Day 6
Cheryl clung to the door handle of the car as it bounced and bumped along the desert roads, her heart pounding and stomach churning. Frank and his team had located the building the two 'American cops' were supposedly being held in, and she was on her way to meet him. They'd waited for cover of night, and the convenience of sleeping guards, not to mention a handshake with the Mexican authorities, who were meeting her and Frank at the site. She was happy, relieved, excited, worried, nervous, and scared of what they might find all at the same time. But mostly, she was just hoping like hell that they wouldn't end up bringing bodies back.
They began to slow as they neared the cul-de-sac where HRT lay hidden, and as they were pulling in to a stop, the headlights of the Mexican police reflected off the rearview. The cul-de-sac was created by rock formation, and eerily quiet as Cheryl stepped out of the car, and looked around for Frank suppressing a chill. Whether that was the by-product of the palpable danger in the air, or cool desert night, she refused to consider. Wordlessly, she exchanged pleasantries with Frank, and distrusting nods, and a deal-sealing handshake with the Mexicans.
In silence Frank and his people began milling around, shrugging on vests, checking weapons and clips one last time. A few exchanged promises that they'd pass on goodbyes to each other's loved ones, as the people they were going up against were not to be underestimated, and the situation wasn't to be taken lightly. The moonlight shown in their eyes, and reflected off their weapons, while shadows still cloaked them, the combination making them appear sinister. In the early morning darkness they looked anything, but a team on a rescue mission.
The Mexican team had grown since they first began arriving, and unlike HRT they seemed to be constantly smiling, their white teeth seeming to glow unnaturally under the pale moon. A few laughed as others chambered a round in their semi-automatic weapons. Their leader barked orders in Spanish, so that they quieted down, and assembled themselves. Cheryl, Frank, and HRT watched them wearily; they didn't know these people, and didn't trust their apparent bloodlust. They'd be watching each other's backs against more than just the cartel that night.
Frank assembled his troops, and turned a very nervous-looking Cheryl, and nodded- it was starting.
Frank led the way as the highly trained team made their where stealthily beyond the rock formation that hid them, and into the wide-open of the desert. Even in their steel soled boots and heavy protective gear, they were as quiet as a pack of wolves stealing through the night. To anyone observing, they appeared fearless and determined. They were determined, but these men weren't fearless, as anyone else they felt it in their hearts. But they worked passed it, and let the adrenaline take over their bodies and minds, pushing them forward without a second thought.
Cheryl stayed behind with the Mexican police, something Frank wasn't particularly thrilled with, but it was a toss-up where she'd be safer until they got he building clear. Until his signal came, they would wait, allowing the team with more training do what they did best. Allowing the Mexican police to go in with them would surely have caused chaos, highly dangerous chaos, and Cheryl at this moment would only be a liability. Negotiators weren't given enough training for the average assault (which they'd likely never be part of), let alone one of this caliber.
So she hung back, wearily watching the Mexican police, as Frank and his team approached the house. A few hand motions, and his team members knew exactly where he wanted them, surrounding the small, unassuming house. There was no one outside guarding the house. The cartel was that cocky, or maybe just that confident that even if someone were to find the house, and realize that people were in it, nobody in their right mind what attack the cartel. Except of course for FBI LA's HRT Unit, who spread in a wide circle around the house, coming the tiniest bit closer every so often.
Once they had the building completely surrounded, Frank motioned for them to start moving in. He was at the front door, Duff was out the back, and each had a team of men, with others scattered around the building, monitoring the windows. Once they'd gotten about seven feet from the doors, the two men counted down from three, and then moved in at a speed so fast few could have had a chance against them. Two steel battering rams busted in the front and back doors, and HRT swarmed in, stunning the sleeping drug dealers, many of whom were drunk on tequila or high on their own product.
They were pushed up against the walls, and handcuffs flew like a whirlwind, snapping around wrists and sealing their fates. In the midst of all of it Frank signaled for Duff to send the signal, and he rushed out and shot off a flare. Back inside, HRT was swarming all over the house, scouring the depilated house for any hidden enemies, or bodies. They found neither.
"Yo man, you don't got any jurisdiction down here. You can't keep us cuffed!" One man shouted, spitting on Frank's boot.
"Oh, maybe not, but we've got some friends who can, and look, here they come," Frank grinned as Cheryl came in through the door, the Mexican police fast on her heels.
"Aw, shit man."
"Frank did you find them?" Cheryl demanded upon seeing him.
"No trace of them yet, we do however have Ramon here. I'm betting he can help us with that."
"Where are they?" Cheryl got as close to Ramon's face as she could.
"I don't know who the hell your talking about!"
"You damn well do! The two federal agents you took hostage, what did you do with them!" She exploded at him.
"I didn't do shit with them, lady! Maybe your little friends should have stayed on their side of the border," he spit at her.
"Listen, you're going to prison no matter what. You've got nothing to lose, just tell me if they're alive."
"I don't know."
"The hell you don't! You tell me now!"
"Fuck off bitch!"
Cheryl grabbed and shook him, pissed and stressed to her breaking point, "Tell me god damn it! I need to know if they are alive!"
Unable to fight back with his arms, Ramon glared at her and spit in her face. Cheryl immediately let him go, and backed up, to furious to think.
"Alright, this is how we're going to do this. The first one of you clowns who tells us where the 'American cops' are gets to walk out of here."
"Hey, these are mine. Did you forget our deal?" The captain of the Mexican police demanded, reminding them of the deal they made. The Mexicans let Matt and Emily go free, with no charges, and the FBI would let them take custody and prosecute all of the cartel members.
"Relax, the deal begins when you let our people go free. If we can't find them, there is nobody to go free. Besides, loosing one of the boneheads isn't going to hurt you that much."
The captain glared at him, but remained quiet.
Still nobody jumped for their deal.
"Okay," Cheryl took back control, "take them all outside, we bring them in one by one. Whoever rolls gets free passage across the border and visa for six months. That means you'll have six legal months in the U.S. in which you can find a decent job and apply for citizenship. And the cartel can't get you up there."
Frank nodded toward his men, and they began escorting the cartel members out, leaving one with Cheryl and Frank.
"You guys had your guns pointed at two federal agents, where are they now?" Frank demanded of the man in front of them.
He remained silent.
"Come on, that is a sweet deal we gave you," he coaxed.
He still stood silent, refusing to utter a word.
"Alright, Duff!" Frank called outside.
"Yeah?" His second in command asked poking his head into the house.
"Take this piece of garbage, and send in the next contestant."
Duff nodded, walking in and grabbing the man from the room, and dragging him out. Soon he came back in with another.
"What's your name?" Cheryl asked.
"Okay Carlos, we need to know where the American cops are, can you please tell me where they are?" Cheryl tried another approach.
"You heard what we offered, that is no small thing."
"Not all Mexicans want to crawl across the border and join you gringos," he hissed at her.
"Fine. Duff?" She turned to him, and he nodded dragging him out, and bringing the next one in.
This lasted through three more men, until finally they got a nervous-looking one.
"So, Miguel, can you help us?" Frank asked gently.
He stared blankly at Frank.
"The two American cops, where are they?"
"If I tell you, you'll really take me to America?"
"Will you take my wife and baby?"
"Where are they?" Cheryl asked, coming closer to the Miguel.
"In Ensenada, I can't go without them."
"We wouldn't expect you to, we'll send two of our men to get them now. You just have to tell us where my people are." She coaxed him.
"You see that door? To the closet?"
"Yeah, we searched it, they aren't in there."
"Open the door." He told them, tossing his chin out to the door.
Shaking his head in disbelief, Frank went across the room, yanking the closet door open, and gesturing, annoyed at the empty closet.
"Look at the floor, it's opens. There's a basement beneath the house, a few rooms underneath, they're in one."
Frank felt around the edges of the floor, realizing that in fact it wasn't attached to the walls. Grabbing the knife from his belt, he flicked it open, and stuck the blade between wall and the false floor, working it around until the floor popped up.
"Looks like he's telling the truth Cheryl, there's a basement or something down here, he said peering into the dark."
"Ok, uh, Duff, get two men to take Miguel to get his wife and baby, and bring a few men in here." She instructed, grabbing the flashlight from her belt, as Frank did the same, and they prepared to go into the hole.
Duff nodded and left, leaving the pair the descend into the dark hole, which fortunately had a ladder to get to the bottom. The two drudged down them, eager and apprehensive at the same time.
"Okay, I see three doors, which one's the winner?" Frank asked.
"This one, it's the first one you see, and these guys are lazy," Cheryl suggested.
Frank nodded, "Let's do this."
Stealing himself against the possibilities, Frank turned the handle, and pushed the door in, exposing a tiny room. Both people immediately jumped back, away from the room.
"Jesus, it smells like a friggin sewer in there."
"Oh god, Frank pull your flashlight up."
"What? Oh, Jesus, please tell me that's not them," he said gesturing to bone thin figures curled together in the corner. The smell was coming from the corner opposite them, no doubt where the pair had made their bathroom. As they moved further into the room, the light exposed the two people, one a man with jet black hair, the other a red-haired woman.
"Please, please, please, be alive," Cheryl whispered a prayer, tearing into the room.
Before she even put her fingers to Emily's throat, the fevered flush over her face proved that she was in fact alive.
"Call for a Med-Evac, Frank!"
"At least one is!" She said, feeling Emily's heart beating beneath her fingers as proof positive.
As she hovered over Emily, who lay sleeping in Matt's arms, Matt began to stir.
"Matt? Matt are you alright?"
His eyes came open suddenly at her voice, and he immediately stiffened, his mind was reeling, had Ramon finally come to kill them?
"Matt, hey talk to me?" Cheryl coaxed him.
His eyes looked around crazily, before he weakly tried to move his body in front of Emily, protecting her with the only bit of energy he had left.
"Stay back!" He demanded, breathing heavily at the effort.
"Matt, relax, it's Cheryl," she told him worriedly.
"Away…away…" he mumbled at her.
"Matt, I'm not going to hurt you," she pled with him, frightened that he didn't seem to recognize her. She reached out to touch his hand, but her fingers had barely grazed his skin, when pulled back as fast as his weak body would allow.
"Jesus Frank, where the hell is the Med-Evac."
"I had them send to choppers down here, but it's going to take some time."
"Frank! Cheryl! Jesus this place is creepy," they could hear Duff calling.
"In here Duff!" Frank called back to him.
"Em…? Em…? Come on…wake up for me." They suddenly heard Matt's weakened whisper.
"Hey, are they…" Duff trailed off, seeing the worried looks that Cheryl and Frank were wearing.
"Em…? No…no…no…please, please…don't be dead…please, you can't…can't be dead…" Matt begged her weakly, his eyes becoming red, but no tears falling, his body lacking the water it needed to make them run.
"Oh god…" Duff trailed off watching him.
"Matt, she isn't dead. Emily isn't dead," Cheryl tried to tell him.
Matt just shook his head at her, or more wobbled it.
"Matt, listen to me," she asked, but he just ignored her, continuing to look at Emily. Cheryl grabbed his hand, and thrust it over Emily's heart, pressing it close until he could feel her heart beating.
"She's alive Matt." He turned to her wide-eyed, not quite believing, and really, barely comprehending anything.
Frank had had enough right then, and turned and quickly headed back out of the whole, and out where the rest of HRT and the Mexican police waited with the cartel members. He strode up to Ramon, who looked extremely bored, and rather pissed at his circumstances, and stared at the man for a moment.
"What?" Ramon asked, a look of disgust on his face.
Frank didn't say anything, instead he hauled off and let his fist crash into Ramon's face, the man's scream of agony offering him a twisted satisfaction. Then, instead of staying, knowing that he'd keep beating Ramon until he was dead, he left back for the hole.
Twenty-five minutes later one chopper had set down in front of the house, and the paramedics soon rushed in with their stretcher. The group was still in the basement, busy trying to convince Matt to let go of his unconscious girlfriend. He was completely delirious, so far gone that all he saw in them was danger, and even with his limited strength, he gripped her the best he could. They didn't want to force him, but they were running out of options.
"Matt, the helicopter just landed, don't you want Emily to get help she needs?" Cheryl asked.
Matt just stared at them, as he had been the last twenty minutes, but a shuffle at the door caused him to turn, along with the three other heads in the room. The paramedics had made it down the ladder with their stretcher and were walking it into the room, coming over to the group and setting it on the floor.
They approached Matt and Emily, and began taking Emily's vitals. Surprisingly, Matt didn't try to fight, he may not trust people right then, but he trusted the tools they used. The two paramedics gently worked her out of his arms, and onto the stretcher, wrapping the restraints over her and latching them, so she wouldn't fall out. This caused Matt to become agitated again, as he picked himself up from the wall with some difficulty, and started to pry at the paramedics.
"Easy man, we're not hurting her." The paramedic assured him, brushing away the man that was in no shape to fight him, and with his partner, lifting the stretcher into the air and carrying it back out of the room.
"Matt relax, they're taking her to a hospital." He didn't seem to hear her, but with little else he could do, he fell back against the wall, staring into space for the next ten minutes.
Like he was with the paramedics that took Emily, he was calm while the next set took his vitals. He seemed to have forgotten he didn't like the stretcher too, because he got in it easily. However, when they began fastening it, he began to lash out, slapping and clawing at the paramedics hands as they fastened the straps.
Cheryl watched the exchange, pained, getting an entirely new view on her longtime friend, and Frank and Duff just stared in semi-horrified silence. What the hell had their friends been put through?
Two hours later, they'd finally gotten to San Diego Hope Hospital, where Matt and Emily had been taken. As it turned out, they'd already been examined and were being treated, so there was no waiting around for a diagnosis. Only a short wait while the doctor who'd treated them was paged, and came to meet them.
"Dr. Max Jefferies, are you all here for FBI agents?"
"Yes, are they going to be okay?" Cheryl quickly answered and asked.
"Well, you first need to understand that both are severely dehydrated, and starved to a point where their bodies have begun feeding off themselves. They both would have been dead by this afternoon if you hadn't found them," he explained, his expression firm.
"But, they're going to be okay?" Frank asked impatiently.
"We're giving them fluids and nutrients intravenously, and Ms. Lehman is also on antibiotics, her left forearm was impaled with something that led to a nasty infection. But, yes, they'll begin to get better over the next few days, and if everything goes well, we should be able to release him in a week, her in maybe a week and a half."
The three bodies in front of him, rigid with worry and stress, seemed to suddenly sag with relief at his words.
"Can we see them?" Cheryl asked tentatively.
"Emily's still out, and we had to sedate Matt, but sure for a little while."
"Thank you, Dr. Jefferies."
"Of course. I'll be back to check on them later," he answered before walking off to his next patient.
The trio walked quietly into Emily's room first, afraid to wake her, even though they knew a bomb wouldn't wake her until her body was ready. The pink flush to her cheeks was gone, so that now they simply held the deathly pallor of the ill, but her lips held the tiniest amount of color, a small reassurance for them. Her injured arm was wrapped in a clean, white bandage, and an IV line led to her other arm.
Cheryl moved to stand beside the bed, and took her friend's hand in her own, and holding it tightly. She noted that the nurses had cleaned Emily up, the sweat and grim was gone from her face. Cheryl closed her eyes for a moment, trying to remind herself that the woman in front of her was alive, because she'd gotten so used to thinking of her as dead.
After visiting Matt, and calling Lia, Emily's parents, and Matt's sister, the trio settled into a hotel for the night, too beat to leave, even if they wanted to. As exhausted as they were, it should have been easy to get to sleep, but they'd been running on adrenaline and worry for the last six days. Their bodies were still pumping the hormone out, accustomed to providing it by now, and unaware that it was no longer needed. It was a few hours before they'd all fallen to blissful sleep.
Lia flew down sometime during that night, and instead of getting her own room, made a very welcome late night call to Duff's. The next morning Emily's parents showed up at the hospital, jittery and half frantic, and by the afternoon Matt's sister had arrived. However, over the next two days, Matt and Emily drifted in and out of consciousness, the doctors keeping them sedated to allow their bodies to gain back the strength they'd lost. By their third morning in the hospital, the two were allowed to stay awake, and Matt was up by seven, much to the nurse's dismay.
"Mr. Flannery, I'm sorry, but I don't think Dr. Jefferies wants you up yet." The nurse told him for the fifth, hands on her hips, irritated at having to repeat herself.
"Then get me a wheelchair," he demanded, before softening his voice, and pleading with her, "Please, please, I need to see her."
"You really want to go next door and see your girlfriend?" She asked slyly.
Matt nodded eagerly.
"Fine, you eat that damn jello, and you'll get your wheelchair, deal?" Matt had been refusing to ingest the jiggly red glob in a plastic cup.
Matt looked at the cup now with disgust, before turning to the nurse and muttered, "Deal."
She stayed and watched him until he'd clean the cup out, finally leaving to get the chair, returning ten minutes later. She helped him get into it, transferring the IV bags to the pole attached to the chair, before swatting his hands away from the wheels, and grabbing the handles and wheeling him out.
"Thank you," he muttered as she parked him beside Emily's bed, walked out, promising to return to collect him later.
"How'd you manage to piss off the nurse already?" Emily asked groggily, coming out of her slumber with a smile.
"Hey, you're awake."
"Enough to know that nurse doesn't like you," she smirked.
"We have an understanding now. I eat her gross jello, and she lets me visit you."
She laughed at him, "I forgot you didn't like jello."
"You know, aside from being just plain creepy, it doesn't even taste good," he said incredulously, making a face.
"You think the jiggle is creepy?"
"Food shouldn't move like that, it's unnatural."
"This coming from the man that still devours those triple-decker, artery-clogging mountains that masquerade as hamburgers, from fast food joints no less," she commented, eye brows raised in disbelief.
"That's different, it's at least food," he argued.
"Whatever, I didn't come in here to discuss food with you."
"Oh, and what did you come here for?" She asked teasingly.
"This." He leaned over and placed a soft, sweet kiss upon her lips, deepening it after she proved she was just as eager.
"Don't start something you can't finish," she murmured after they broke the kiss, eyes still closed, head resting against her pillow.
"You keep talking like that, and I might have to bust us out of here early," he told her as they lapsed into silence.
"I meant what I said before…I love you." She spoke softly, nervous even though she felt those words with her whole heart.
"I never doubted it, I love you too," his words came out just as quietly, but she heard them just fine, as he leaned over and rested his head beside hers, both content in the moment.
So this chapter ends the story and begins spring cleaning phase one. Thanks for reading, and thank you very much to everybody who reviewed. And on a bit of an unrelated note...I just got my graduation regalia, I'm so excited, it's almost over!