A Dog's Chance
Dedicated to Faith. Thanks for everything!!!
Charlie, I swear, if I get outta this one, you're mincemeat. Alphonse groaned and pried an eyelid open. He felt like hell. He was lying flat on his back on a dirt floor, his arms held in the air by the handcuffs round his wrists, the handcuffs were attached to pipe of some kind. Wincing at the protest of his bruised body, Alphonse struggled into a sitting position, which relieved the strain on his wrists. He opened both eyes, shit, and winced, waiting for his surroundings to slow down a bit and stop whirling round.
He mentally checked himself for damage. His legs seemed okay, his back not so bad, apart from a couple of sore patches where they'd ripped the wire from his body heedless of the sticky tape pulling his skin. From the slight pull in his side he could tell he had a least one cracked rib, and a footprint to match, he thought sourly. His left wrist didn't feel so good, in the half light, he tried to squint at it so see if there was anything obviously wrong. His fingers were puffy and discoloured and the wrist was swollen, the steel cuff biting into his skin, dammit, either sprained or broken. There was a deep cut high in his hairline which had bled profusely down the side of his face. From the slight swimmy, dizzy feeling he was getting, he knew he had at least a minor concussion.
Suddenly he became aware he was being watched. He looked up into sorrowful brown eyes, the long floppy ears and droopy jowls added to the mournful picture. The dog watched him closely.
"Hey. How're ya doin'?" For some strange reason Alphonse felt cheered that he was not alone in this place. This place? Where the hell am I? The dog seemed to consider him carefully, then certain he wasn't a threat moved in a little closer.
"So where are we.." he checked, no external plumbing, "girl? Whatsa nice lady like you doin' in a place like this?" he laughed slightly hysterically at his own joke. The dog inched a little closer and rested her head in his lap. She seemed prepared to trust him. He looked her over, from what he could see, someone liked to beat her.
"So who hurt you, girl? Some asshole who likes to beat up on animals?" She responded to the sound of his voice, leaning against him. She sat up a bit further, leaning her head against his chest. Alphonse slid his bound arms round her and gave her a bit of a hug, as much for his own comfort as anything. He was hoping and praying that the others would find him, but he had a bad feeling about this.
"On ya feet, Royo." They came as soon as it was dark outside. The dog slithered back into the shadows, anxious to avoid a beating.
They dragged him upright, and he yelped in pain, mentally revising one cracked rib to at least three. They uncuffed him from the pipe, and re-cuffed his hands, mercifully still in front, the left wrist was really painful now and he was grateful that he could give it a bit of support. He was shoved out of the door into the back of a truck.
The dog raised her head. She'd seen this happen before to others and they never came back. This man was nice, he had a warm friendly voice and he'd hugged her. The door was open still and she made her decision. As the truck drove off up the dirt trail, she put her head down and followed.
Ice drove. Charlie frantically checked his scanner. Chrissy sat in the front seat and tried very hard not to panic. Alphonse was posing as a mafia bag man. He'd been sent in to make a simple drop. Five minutes in, the wire went dead and he'd vanished. They'd been too slow in surrounding the area and the perps had got away.
Just the thought of what these creeps might have done to his friend made Charlie sick inside.
"You got anything at all, man?" Ice sounded cool and collected, he was anything but, but panic would get them nowhere. Besides which Charlie had cornered the market in panic.
"Nah. Not a thing. It's like they beamed him up."
Chrissy turned round. "Charlie, run what we've got again. There might be something we've missed."
Gawd, I hope so. "Okay, but I don't think anything will've changed from the first ten times."
The van stopped and they dragged Alphonse out. It was dark and as they forced him to walk in front of them, he stumbled over the unfamiliar ground. He was stopped in front of a tall post in the ground.
"Okay, we'll see if you're a bit more talkative by tomorrow night." Two of them yanked his arms into the air, the short chain between the cuffs looped over a hook way up above his head. Alphonse cried out as his injured wrist took half his bodyweight. His cracked ribs were being stretched beyond endurance. They left him dangling like a side of beef and walked away into the darkness. The truck's lights swept round in an arc, giving him a brief glimpse of the inhospitable place he'd been left in.
For hours he hung on the end of the cuffs. The pain travelling up and down his arm was agony. In the freezing cold grey early dawn, he got a good look at his surroundings. He was in deep shit.
Suddenly something touched his leg. He unscrewed his eyes and peered down past the edge of the post. It was the dog from the barn.
"Hey girl, you found me!" he gasped as a wave of pain travelled down to his shoulder. He had to get out of this. Using every ounce of strength he could muster, he dug his fingers into the wooden post and tried to lever the handcuffs off the hook, four times he slipped back, each jolt more agonising than the last. At the fourth he dangled for a moment, pressing his cheek against the rough wood "I can't do it girl." The dog looked up at him and pawed his leg again.
Alphonse gathered the last of his strength and courage, this is gonna hurt. One final throw, his straining, scrabbling fingers gained a little more purchase and the chain slipped free.
Alphonse fell heavily on his back. Air left his lungs with a big whoosh, even his cry of pain was soundless. He lay utterly still for a full five minutes, eyes screwed shut. Eventually, he rolled onto his side, opened his eyes. Three dogs looked back at him. Oh shit, pain, concussion, no focus, I'm gonna die. The dog moved in and lay down next to him. Alphonse leaned into her. She was wearing an old and battered collar, it had a small dirty name tag on it. Tilly. Alphonse's eyes focussed on the word.
"Pleased ta meet ya Tilly. I'm Alphonse." A huge pink tongue licked his face, removing some of the dried blood. He snuggled closer, her warm body gave him a little comfort from the pain of his wrist and side.
Tilly got to her feet. The man was hurt and needed help, and they couldn't stay where they were. She pawed him and whined.
"I know girl." Alphonse got to his feet with difficulty and took a more comprehensive look at his surroundings. He had no idea where he was, except that it was desert in every direction with no shade and he was in deep trouble. He looked down at his three piece suit, torn and dirty now, the hand-made Italian leather loafers and no socks. His clothes were strictly city wear, a three piece wool suit in the 100° heat was gonna be a nightmare, and it wasn't like he could get his jacket off over his cuffed hands either.
Easing his uninjured right hand under his damaged left wrist to give it some support he set off in what he hoped was the right direction. Gotta put distance between me and those guys.
Panic had long since set in at FBI Headquarters. Alphonse had been missing for over eight hours and there was no sign of him anywhere.
O'Connor berated the team soundly and then started to badger every precinct across the city to look for one missing Latin. Turning up nothing at all.
The sun was up. The heat was making everything more of a strain and Alphonse was feeling really sick now. Somehow, he'd managed to unbutton the vest and pull his shirt open, but the heat was getting to him. The terrain was rough and difficult. His wrist was screaming and his headache, complete with dizziness and double vision, was getting worse. Tilly hung close to his side as he stumbled along.
He tripped and collapsed on the ground. His head was splitting and all he wanted to do was lie down and go to sleep. The sensation of a warm body pressed against his battered frame brought him back from the edge.
"Tilly" he whispered weakly, "I don' think I can make it." The persistently nudging nose did it. Somehow, he managed to get to his knees, and then to his feet. It was a long time before the spinning slowed sufficiently for him to try to put one foot in front of the other. Only the dog's presence kept him from total collapse.
Tilly was walking pressed against him now, steering him. He'd long since lost sense of direction, and as his headache worsened, he'd closed his eyes, blindly relying on the dog to guide him.
The Mojave County Sheriff received the wire about the missing FBI Undercover Agent. He tossed it into his basket. Cepeda had enough to worry about, like rousting out that gang of toughs up in the hills, before they pedalled any more dope to the unsuspecting school kids.
Cepeda organised a raid. His deputies swept through the place like a tornado. Turned up three sullen petty lowlifes and a filthy truck. Cepeda checked the truck over and came up with an expensive looking silk tie in the back. He thought back to the description of the missing agent. Described as wearing a three piece suit.
He made the call. Swept the area.
Three hours later, Cepeda was looking across his desk at a very worried team.
"We found this in the back of the truck." He pulled the tie out of his drawer and handed it to O'Connor.
Charlie intercepted it. "It's 'Phonse's, alright." He felt a sinking in the pit of his stomach.
Out in the desert, Alphonse was getting weaker. He stumbled again and collapsed, totally spent. Somehow, his last remaining flicker of strength, he managed to crawl into the shade of a Joshua tree. He flopped down heavily on his front, his injured wrist pinned beneath him. His head wound began to bleed again sluggishly, blood slowly dripped down the side of his face, as he closed his eyes and passed out.
Tilly moved in next to him. She didn't nudge him and try to get him moving again. Some corner of her instinct told her he couldn't do it.
After three hours of questioning one of the lowlifes finally admitted what they'd done to the cop. How they'd left him in the desert. Cepeda organised a search.
Hours ticked past. Alphonse's terrified friends waited in a fever of impatience.
Charlie hurled the Explorer up the track, Ice clung grimly to the front seat and prayed; he wasn't a praying man, but Charlie's driving seemed to warrant it.
Reaching the Ranger station, Charlie was out of the SUV before the engine had stopped turning over.
Alphonse was in the medical room. He lay back on the couch, eyes closed, as one of the Rangers tended to his injuries. Brown hair flopped down over the white bandage round his head, someone had cleaned the blood away from his face; his left wrist was being wrapped in an inflatable splint, resting on a pillow placed across his body. He looked tired and beat up.
His good hand rested on the head of a large bloodhound.
Charlie came to a grinding halt. "What the hell is that?"
"A dog." Alphonse couldn't bear to open his eyes, he might see three of Charlie and that was three too many.
"I hate dawgs!"
Ice pushed past his hesitant partner irritably. "'Phonse, how'ya feeling?"
"Like shit." He sounded weak and croaky.
The Ranger looked up from his work on the broken wrist. "Agent Royo has concussion and heat stroke, as soon as I've immobilised his wrist, we'll get him to hospital." Even feeling the way he was, Alphonse didn't view that with any favour. A small frown crossed his features.
Chrissy moved up to the other side of the bed and gently stroked his cheek. "'Phonse, we need to get you checked out in hospital." He responded to her touch, burrowing against her hand. God he must be out of it. She clamped down on the tinge of fear. Alphonse was a lot tougher than that.
The air ambulance duly arrived, and then the trouble really started. Alphonse and the dog didn't want to be separated. He was feeling whoozy and sick, and Tilly was a constant against the pain he was suffering. He wrapped his good arm round her neck. Tilly growled when Ice tried to detach her from his friend's side. In the end they loaded man and dog into the chopper and took off for hospital.
Chrissy and the boys drove out to the Mojave County Hospital to collect him four days later. Alphonse was waiting for them. He'd done a lot of thinking in the past couple of days, he'd become attached to Tilly and didn't want to give her up. He'd never had a pet before.
So he'd worked on a full-proof plan to get what he wanted, and a little payback too would be an added bonus. It was feedback on the wire he had been wearing that had gotten him in the mess in the first place.
Nancy the nurse had entered into the spirit of things very well. If this didn't get him his own way, he didn't know what would. Admittedly they'd gone for slight overkill on his arm, but if that didn't make his partners feel guilty..
Chrissy couldn't contain the gasp of shock and sympathy at his appearance. The thick blond-brown hair flopped over the heavy white bandage covering the nasty cut on his head. His left arm was in a sturdy cast from his knuckles to somewhere just below his elbow, supported by a sling. His shirt slung loosely round his shoulder and caught with two buttons across his chest. The white strapping round his ribs clearly visible. He got slowly to his feet and winced.
"Alphonse." Chrissy fussed over him. Okay, I admit that was a possible upside to this whole deal as well. Charlie and Chrissy helped him out to the Explorer, Ice bringing up the rear. They were halfway down the road when Tilly announced her presence from the back of the Explorer.
Something cold and damp nudged the back of Charlie's neck and he froze. The great brown head swung over the back of the seat and came to rest on Alphonse's shoulder.
Charlie ricocheted off the door in his attempt to get away. "Where'in the hell did that come from?" He looked around wildly.
"It's Tilly." Alphonse tried to make his voice sound a bit more invalidish and drowsy. Ice stared at him very hard in the rear view mirror. Something about this don't quite add up.
The smooth self assured leader cast his eyes over his partner a second time, the heavy bandages seemed out of proportion to a small cut on his head, a fractured wrist and some bruised ribs. For the briefest instant blue eyes met hazel ones in the mirror. The slight glint in the blue eyes told him all he needed to know.
Ice knew they were being conned, but he had to admire the style. Alphonse had clearly thought of everything and object of the exercise being that he wanted to keep Tilly. Probably wants payback too.
A quick glance sideways told him that Chrissy had fallen for it hook, line and sinker. Charlie was more concerned with keeping a good sized distance between himself and the dog. Ice smiled to himself and settled down to enjoy the show. He had no qualms about going along with it, for the time being. Won't do them no harm to worry for a bit.
They arrived back at the loft. While Alphonse settled himself on the couch; Chrissy, full of pillow-plumping concern, busied herself trying to make him comfortable.
Choosing a brief moment when Chrissy and Charlie were busy elsewhere, Ice leaned down to his partner.
"Ten bucks says you blow this in less than forty-eight hours."
"A C note says I can keep this going a week."
Two sets of fingers brushed to seal the deal.
Chrissy returned with a quilt and a couple of pillows. He was enjoying himself, all this tlc and subsided comfortably into the pillows. Ice had to turn away to hide a smile as she gently ruffled Alphonse's hair and asked in a low voice if he needed anything. He slid further down on the couch and looked up at her, all big blue eyes and boyish charm, he'd dispensed with the sling and was supporting his heavily plastered wrist against his shoulder, puffy discoloured fingers mute testimony to the pain he was enduring.
Alphonse had been reading women right since puberty bit, and he could tell by Chrissy's expression that it was working. A slight wobble in his husky voice, he looked up at her, "Don't worry about me." Add the brave smile and slight wince and it had the desired effect; Chrissy was sitting next to him on the couch, stroking his cheek and making soothing noises. He leaned in to her, it wasn't quite all con, his head ached and his wrist felt like it was about to fall off.
Charlie was quietly steaming. He watched Alphonse cuddle up to Chrissy on the couch, a unreasonable flash of jealousy burned through him. He banged pans with unnecessary violence. Chrissy gently tucked the quilt round Alphonse and dropped a light kiss on the bruised fingers protruding from the cast.
The pan slammed down onto the gas ring. Ice fought to hold onto his deadpan expression at the computer expert's fierce glare. Alphonse hammed it up a bit, leaning into Chrissy.
Chrissy looked down at her loveable rogue. She knew he was playing on her sympathies, but what had happened to him scared her. Making a fuss of him made her feel better about getting him into the situation in the first place. She looked a little closer, he was leaning against her with his eyes closed, the lines of strain showed clearly on his face; so it's not all a play for sympathy, she stroked his back and he slowly fell asleep.
Charlie opened the door slowly. And peered cautiously behind the door. The dog wasn't there. He breathed a sigh of relief.
He crossed to his part of the loft. He'd been up all night and was really looking forward to his rest. He stopped in the doorway and stared at the mess. A pair of his shoes lay chewed beyond redemption on the quilt, there was a deep hollow liberally dusted in dog hairs in the middle of his bed.
"ALPHONSE!!!" Charlie howled his partner's name in outrage.
"Yeah, What!!" Alphonse and Tilly appeared behind him.
"That's what!" He waved at the mess. "That thing has to go!!!" He waved a hand at Tilly, who leaned adoringly against her master and tried to look innocent. Alphonse sprang to his pet's defence.
"Charlie, she's only a dog. She doesn't understand." Alphonse mustered his best innocent hurt expression. "Why' y'always picking on her?"
The computer expert was past caring. "Just get rid of it." He snarled. Alphonse could see which way this was going, time for plan B. He leaned heavily against the door frame and sagged a bit at the knees. Instant panic. Charlie reached out to grab his friend, before the collapse.
"'Phonse, you okay?"
Alphonse nodded, then wilted a bit more. Charlie put his arm firmly around his big partner's waist and helped him to the couch. Alphonse hammed it up again, leaning into Charlie, he wasn't about to lose this battle.
Charlie helped his friend lie down on the couch. Leaping away when Tilly moved in next to her beloved master. A huge pink tongue slopped up the side of the big Latin's face, he wriggled trying not to laugh. Charlie caught the involuntary movement, and was instantly suspicious. He checked out the big man a bit more closely, his colour seemed normal and there weren't any obvious signs of illness. He scowled darkly.
"Oh, I get it!" He erupted. "Y've been playing us f'idiots for the last two days."
Alphonse sat up.
"Charlie." He began. The irate computer expert was not listening.
"Charlie, nothing. That thing goestoday." He stormed off, not listening to his friend's protests.
Alphonse got wearily to his feet. Well, that idea bombed nicely. He pushed the heavy bandage off his forehead, no need for this now. The cumbersome cast on his arm was another irritation. He decided to take a shower.
Alphonse stood under the spray, trying to get a plan of action worked out. He didn't notice the soap drop to the floor of the shower. He turned his face up to the spray, eyes screwed shut, stepping forward slightly into the fall of water. He slipped on the soap, hitting his head against the wall, he crumpled to the ground. The soaked cast no protection as he landed on his injured wrist again. Knocked cold by the force of the fall, he lay in an increasing pool of water.
Tilly pawed her master. But there was no response. The water was rising, and the bloodhound could sense something was wrong. She took his wrist in her mouth and pulled. He didn't move. She settled her feet, tightened her grip and pulled back, very slowly the unconscious body slid towards her. Tilly dug in, pulling harder, he slipped onto the floor. Tilly let go his arm and nudged him with her nose. Still no response. She lay down next to him, snuggling close, trying to keep him warm.
"I don't care, Ice. He's spent the last three days lying to us!" Charlie grouched.
Ice looked sideways at his angry partner. "'Phonse only wants to keep the dog. Give it up Charlie, he's gonna get what he wants, an' you know it."
"Oh, great!! So I'm out voted here, am I?" Charlie was fuming.
They entered the loft. No sign of Alphonse. But they could hear the shower running.
"Alphonse!" Charlie called his name. No answer. "You sulking, or what?" The computer expert yanked the washroom door open. "JEEZUS, SHIT!! Ice, we've got trouble!" He knelt on the damp floor by his friend's unconscious body. "Alphonse, c'mon man, can you hear me?" Ice took one look and reached for the phone, dialling for an ambulance.
Tilly moved closer, her great brown head swung protectively over her master's shoulder. Charlie eased back slightly at the glint in her eye.
Once again the anxious trio waited at the hospital for news.
The doctor appeared and Ice pounced. "Well, Doc?"
"Mr Royo has concussion, and his wrist is broken in three places. We had to pull it straight and pin everything into position to set it, which caused him a lot of pain, so we will be keeping him overnight for observation."
Alphonse looked and felt worse than he'd previously tried to con his partners into believing. Once again a heavy bandage covered the deep gash in his head. His arm was in a very solid cast which ran from his knuckles to well above his elbow, resting on a couple of pillows to support it. He was nearly as white as the sheets he was lying on.
Chrissy had been about to tear him off a strip for trying to deceive her; but one look at his miserable expression, and she was sitting on the edge of the bed next to him. His suffering was obviously real this time. Once again he burrowed his cheek into her hand, eyes half closed and dulled with the pain; Chrissy swallowed, she hadn't expected him to be hurting this badly. He whispered something and she had to lean down to hear.
"Tilly will be fine," Chrissy glared at Charlie and Ice, "We'll take care of her for you!"
He seemed satisfied with that.
Charlie and Ice drove back to the loft in silence, both feeling really guilty. They nearly fell over the dog lying just behind the door. Tilly was sprawled out, nose on paws, eyeing the door with a mournful look on her face.
Charlie tried to get some dinner organised, from where he was standing he could see the dog clearly. She didn't move, just lay there watching the door, whining quietly to herself from time to time. Charlie's guilty complex multiplied just watching.
"Will'ya cut that out. He ain't dead! He'll be back tomorrow..What the..I must be nuts, now I'm talking to a dawg. I hate dawgs. D'y'hear that. I HATE DAWGS!" He spun round at the snort from behind him.
"Don' you start!"
Ice grinned. "Listen to y'self man. She's stayin' and y'know it!"
Charlie spluttered in outrage.
"I'm afraid we will be keeping Mr Royo for the next few days. His condition has not improved overnight, until we are certain that he won't suffer a relapse, it would be better if he stays where he is."
Ice stared at the man in dismay. "When will you be releasing him, Doc?"
"Hard to say. Early next week, perhaps!"
Ice quietly entered the room. Alphonse was asleep, and he looked worse than he had the day before. Ice was worried, all bets were now definitely off.
"Sorry, 'Phonse." He whispered. He didn't have the slightest idea what he was sorry for, but it seemed the right thing to say. Just as quietly he slid from the room.
"Will'ya stop moping..C'mon in the kitchen, see what I got for you!" Charlie was on his hands and knees attempting to communicate with Alphonse's dog. He wouldn't normally get this close, but the animal was so depressed..
"C'monsnap out of it, will'ya?" Charlie was getting exasperated, he got to his feet, and retrieved the steak from the kitchen. "Looknice steak!" Not a flicker, Tilly just watched the door.
Charlie inched closer again, dammit, this is scary. He tentatively reached out and hooked his fingers through the brand-new collar that Chrissy had bought for her, Tilly didn't exactly resist, but she didn't help either. Charlie found himself dragging a hundred pounds of deadweight, dangling from her collar.
"Dammit, y'could help y'know. C'mon, walk..now!" He grunted with the effort of dragging the huge dog into the kitchen area. Tilly didn't blink. He put the bowl of dog chow on the floor under her nose, she shoved it dispiritedly and lay down flat.
Charlie lost his cool. "Dammit.y'dumb animalhe's comin' home laterwill'ya eat something!!"
"He ain't!" Ice's tone was dry.
"Whaddya mean, he ain't!!?" Charlie swung round.
"Doctors figure he's too sick, so they're keepin' him longer."
"You mind tellin' me, what we're gonna do with this?" Charlie waved his hand at Alphonse's despondent pet.
Ice looked down at the miserable dog. He'd never seen an animal look so depressed. Alphonse had taken a real shine to the creature and it was obviously mutual. He thought about it.
"She don' wanna be with us, she's wants t'be with 'Phonse. So we take her to him."
"In the hospital? Are you nuts? We'll never get her past the front door."
"Who said anything about the front door? It'd cheer him up t'see her!"
They were interrupted by a knock at the door. Puzzled, Ice went to open it.
"C'mon guys, I've left my key!"
Ice yanked the door open, Alphonse was leaning against the wall outside. A shriek of joy from Tilly and she hurled herself at him, whining with ecstasy, nearly knocking him over. Ice grabbed his arm and dragged him inside.
"Y'idiot. Whaddya doin' back here."
"That place was making me crazy." Alphonse was defensive. "They talk t'ya like y'six years old."
"That old, huh!" Charlie stuck his opinion in. Ice glared at him and pushed Alphonse onto the couch.
"Sit down, before y'fall down. Y'look really bad, man."
Tilly slid onto the couch, lying sprawled across his lap. Alphonse rubbed her long ears with his free hand, her head resting on his plastered arm. Tilly leaned into him and gazed up adoringly.
"How're ya doin'?"
Charlie glared at the mutual admiration society on the couch, "Oh we're fine, thanks f'askin'. Oh.and the dawg's fine too!!"
Alphonse glanced up at him and scowled. "She's stayin'; end of story." Charlie threw his hands up in disgust, "Okay, okaywhatever." He stalked off, shaking his head in irritation.
Alphonse tried very hard to contain the look of triumph, without much success. "Told ya!"
Ice sighed and handed over the hundred. He had a horrible feeling he was gonna regret this.