Those We Leave Behind
The jewelry in the store window gleamed and sparkled in the sunlight as Fiona and Elsa studied the rings lined up in midnight blue velvet boxes. Each one was beautiful in and of itself, but only one would do. Fiona glanced at the brand new circle of gold awash in small diamonds on her left hand and smiled. When Michael proposed, the moment seared itself into her memory and she was reminded of it several times a day, every time she looked at the engagement ring. But when she had a job to do, she pushed it to the back of her mind. And right now, she had a job.
"Fiona, I feel like I'm being ridiculous," Elsa said beside her.
"You love him, right?" Elsa nodded. "And he loves you?"
The wrinkles on Elsa's brow softened and the creases around her eyes smoothed as she smiled. "I know he does. I just wish he'd ask me. Why should I ask him to marry me? You told me that Veronica woman asked him once, and he went into a panic."
"Things are different now," Fiona answered. "He's taken care of the obstacle he had last time." She sighed and turned to face Elsa, looking deeply into her eyes. "Elsa, I know that Sam loves you more deeply than he ever loved Veronica. You two have a richer relationship. If you ask, he will say yes. I'm sure of it."
"Why hasn't he asked me?" She was beginning to think that maybe he really didn't love her as much as she thought.
Fiona shrugged. "I'm not sure. You'd have to ask him that. Come on, let's go inside and pick out something, so that when he does say 'yes', you've got something to show that you're engaged."
"I'm still not sure about this. I think Sam and I should be ring shopping."
"He's busy with Michael, and it's high time that this happened. Trust me." She gave Elsa a warm smile. Fiona didn't want her to have to wait as long as she did for Michael.
"I promise that I'll at least look. Okay?"
"Well, that's a step in the right direction." Fiona opened the door and let Elsa go in ahead of her. The store was almost empty of customers, so the saleswoman who saw them first came forward, introduced herself, and helped the ladies by proudly displaying the rings in the case inside the store.
As the women shopped, only the other clerk in the store paid attention to three men who entered not long after Elsa and Fiona were seated in front of a low case. By the looks on their faces, they were pleased to see only four witnesses. By the time the men were finished, there would be only one, and she would be gone with them to a place where no one could get to her. The leader, Ferguson, tapped the shoulder of the man to his right. McLaren got the signal and took a few steps to the right. Sullivan moved to the left.
"Can I help you gentlemen today," the male clerk asked with a wary look as he watched the men split up.
"We're shopping for something. It's very special, but it's not something you have in stock here." He pushed past the man and approached the women, and as he took up a position behind Elsa and Fiona, he pulled a gun and pointed it at the clerk. "Move, and you don't get hurt."
The woman, her eyes wide as she saw the gun, got out of her seat with hands up and pressed against the wall next to the other clerk.
"Very good. Now, you two go with my associate to the vault and get in, and you'll be okay."
"We don't have a vault that's big enough for us to stand in," the man said.
"Well then, we'll have to work something else out." He nodded at Sullivan, and he pushed them into the back room. "Now, I want you, Miss, to get up and join them." He pointed the gun at Fiona.
She glared up at him defiantly. "What are you planning to do? Rob the place?"
"No, what I want isn't for sale. At least not in here." His eyes slid over to Elsa. "It's quite valuable." His eyes locked on Fiona. "Take her in back too."
As McLaren grasped Fiona's arm, she immediately fought out of his grip. "No trouble, lady, or you'll be sorry."
Her answer was an elbow to his face. Ferguson's answer was a gun going off. Fiona's eyes widened, her hand instinctively reached for where the bullet pierced her lower chest, and she staggered against the case. It rattled, and then she slid down to the floor still stunned by the shot. Elsa screamed when it happened, and Ferguson reached around and clamped a hand over her mouth.
"Shut up! If you weren't so valuable to me right now, I'd shoot you too! Boys, are you ready? Let's get out of here before the cops show up!"
Two shots rang out in the back, and Sullivan appeared with a blank look on his face. "Ready to go, boss."
"Ready." McLaren replied as he looked down at Fiona. "Should I finish it?"
"With a wound like that, she won't have long. Come on, we've got work to do." In one swift movement, he pulled Elsa from her seat and turned her away from the mess his team left on the floor. "Now, Elsa, you listen to me, obey, and you live. If not, I'll take out your boyfriend first so you can watch him die, and then you're next."
"Who are you?" Elsa was so scared, but she managed to calm herself enough to speak. "What do you want?"
"Let's start with twenty million dollars and we'll go from there," Ferguson replied with a leer. Then his look sobered, and he said, "Think about what I said as you and I leave the store and walk through the galleria. If you so much as squeak, it's all over."
If this man intended to kill Sam first, he obviously knew that Sam and Michael were somewhere in the mall. The men and women had split up, the men to do some recon for a job, and the women to shop. Sam said it was just a routine thing, and he and Michael could handle it alone. If she saw them, what would happen?
"Did you hear me?"
"Y-yes, I did." Elsa gave Fiona's prostrate form one last look. From where she stood, she couldn't tell if she was still breathing. There was so much blood! Her eyes stung with tears as she turned away and addressed the stranger. "I don't like this, but I'll go with you."
"Good. Just act naturally, like I'm your boyfriend." He put an arm around her, smiled, and tucked his gun under a jacket and held it between their bodies in such a way that he could shoot her if necessary. "Let's go."
Ferguson and Elsa walked out of the jewelry store and headed for the exit. His cohorts fanned out, their eyes searching for Sam. Sullivan hesitated a step.
"I see him, boss."
"Okay, keep an eye on him. If he looks like he's on to us or approaches, you know what to do."
Sullivan nodded and kept watching Sam, who stood on the second floor near the railing, scanning the mall. His eyes fixed on the small group, and his mouth opened. He wore sunglasses so his eyes were shielded, but Elsa had no doubt his eyes showed alarm. He got on his phone and moved away from the railing, but he didn't appear to be pursuing them.
"Let's go, let's go," Ferguson muttered and quickened the pace. He kept his focus on the exit while his men watched for security and Sam. The group reached the parking lot and the getaway car, and Ferguson shoved Elsa into the back seat.
She raised a hand to fight him, but he grabbed her wrist, slapped a handcuff on it, and secured it to the other wrist. He didn't say a word, but his eyes warned her that any more moves like that would cause her serious bodily harm. Elsa whimpered and shrunk into the seat.
"That's a good girl," Ferguson said with a smile that communicated anything but happiness. He opened the driver's side door and got in. Sullivan got in back with Elsa, and McLaren took the front passenger seat.
As Ferguson pulled the car out of the parking space, Elsa saw Michael running toward the car with his gun drawn. She shifted herself so she could lower the window with her elbow on the switch, just enough to yell at him and Sam closing in with his weapon ready.
"Back off! Back off or they'll kill you!"
Sullivan slipped a handkerchief over her mouth and tied it, cutting off her ability to call out to them or scream loud enough for anyone to hear. "Shut up, woman! That was really stupid."
Michael raised his gun to shoot at the driver, but he missed when the angle changed and the bullet struck the door frame.
"Mike, they've got Elsa! Be careful!"
The car's back window shattered with a gunshot fired at them. Now the two had a clear view of the retreating men, and at their speed, in moments it would be too late. Sam raised his gun, aimed carefully, and fired just before the car went out of range. The man in the front passenger seat slumped over. The man in back turned, aimed, and fired. Sam dove behind the fender of a car and heard the bullet strike it. Tires squealed, and they were gone.
Sam took a moment to catch his breath and stood, his eyes flitting around with caution. The kidnappers were gone. Alarmed people milled around, and he heard their voices. "Mike?" His friend didn't answer. "Mike!" His eyes locked on a figure lying on the asphalt, and he hurried to his side. "Oh no, Mike! Come on, hang in there, Mikey." He pressed one hand to the stomach wound while he dialed 911 with the other.
It would be a few minutes before help arrived. A cop pulled up. "Okay, people, back off. Let's give them some room here." He stared down at the prone man and the one who knelt beside him attending to the wound. "Did anyone call this in?"
"Yeah, there's an ambulance on the way," Sam answered as he continued to put pressure on the wound.
"Officer, there was a woman shot at the jewelry store in the galleria!"
"Alright, calm down, ma'am." He got on his radio. "Unit 96, we've got a shooting in the mall parking lot and another in the jewelry store."
"Ten-four. More units and another ambulance are on the way."
"Ten-four." The officer worked on keeping people back while Sam did what little he could with no resources.
"Do you have any medical supplies in your trunk," Sam asked.
"Yes, I do." He turned back to the ever increasing crowd. "I need you all to get back and stay back. Now!" When it seemed that the crowd would heed his instruction, he hurried to his cruiser and returned with the bag. He dropped it next to Michael's legs. Sam was again on his knees, and a woman flanked Michael's other side. "Lady, what are you doing?"
"I'm a nurse," she snapped back. "I'm helping."
"Okay." He went back to watching the crowd with two more officers who arrived on the scene.
Sirens increased in volume as Sam and the woman took care of Michael. By the time the ambulance arrived, there was very little for the paramedics to do but stabilize him and pack him up for the trip to the hospital. They thanked Sam and the nurse as they put him into the ambulance.
"I'll go with you," she said. "I walked over here on my break, so I don't have to worry about my car or anything."
"Thanks, for everything, Miss..." Sam glanced down and for the first time noted that she wore rose colored scrubs and a hospital ID badge. "Karen. Thanks."
"You're welcome." She smiled and patted his arm. "We'll take good care of him."
The doors closed, the siren screamed, and the ambulance took off for the hospital. Thank God it was only a few blocks away. The second ambulance left the scene right behind the first. Sam needed to find Fiona and regroup, and wait for the kidnappers to call with their ransom demands. It angered Sam that they couldn't have just gone after them, but the Charger was in a different part of the parking lot, and it was obvious that the men who took Elsa were willing to kill anyone who stood in their way.
"I need to ask you some questions."
Sam let out a deep sigh. His instincts were to find Fi, get the car, and go to the hospital. He didn't have time to answer questions, and he said so. "Look, I've gotta find Mike's fiancee. She's around the mall somewhere."
"In a minute. Just answer my questions and you can look for your friend's fiancee."
"Fine." Sam stood facing the mall, bloodied hands on hips, as he gave the officer what little information he had. When the officer hesitated, he asked, "Can I go now?"
"Sure. I've got your contact information, so if we have any other questions, we'll let you know."
"Thanks." Sam pushed through the crowd and headed for the mall. Unsure of where to look, he searched the ground floor, since Elsa and the men were on that level when he saw them. He neared the jewelry store and saw police tape and more cops. Suddenly, it hit him. Someone reported a woman shot in the jewelry store. He'd been too busy attending Michael to notice at the time. It had to have been Fi. He pressed as closely as he could, but hands held him back.
"Sir, you can't go in there."
"Who was the woman that they took to the hospital?"
"I can't tell you that, Sir. I'm sorry."
Sam caught sight of Fiona's bag in the hands of a detective. He pointed toward him and said, "Officer, I need to talk to that man right now. I have some information on this case."
The officer eyed him, noticed the blood on Sam's hands, and instantly became suspicious. His hand rested on his firearm. The movement wasn't missed by Sam.
"It's okay. I was just trying to keep my friend from dying in the parking lot before the ambulance came! My name is Sam Axe, my friend Michael Westen was taken to the hospital. I need to know if Fiona Glananne was the woman taken to the hospital. She's his fiancee." He paused to take a breath and try to calm his hammering heart. "And the woman who was kidnapped is my fiancee, Elsa."
That got the cop's attention. He raised a hand and signaled to the detective. The detective gave the bag to another suit and walked over to them.
"This guy knows something about this case. Either he's one of the suspects, or he's the victim's beau."
"I'm Detective Casey. What's your name, Mister?"
"Sam Axe. I'm Elsa Winchester's fiance." He wasn't really, not yet, but if it would get them to move while things were still hot, he'd say or do anything to get her back home safe.
"Some men kidnapped her, shot my friend Mike, and I don't know where his fiancee Fiona is. I'm guessing she was the other one shot."
"Come with me, Mr. Axe. I'll take you down to the station where you can clean up and we can talk about what you know."
Sam didn't like the way this guy was treating him, like he wasn't sure yet if Sam was one of the good guys or not. It irritated him; valuable time was being wasted while the detectives barked up the wrong tree. He ducked under the tape and went with the detective and his partner, both flanking him as if prepared to cuff him if necessary. Sam knew how this worked. It didn't mean he had to like it.