Chapter 61: Rescue Pt 2
Allie's first thought was absolute shock. Oh my God, what have they done to her? Although Shana's body wasn't as physically damaged as Cam's was, at least on the surface, what Allie could see was bad enough. The nails were like pins, transfixing a delicately pretty butterfly to the rough wood of a mounting board; the ropes just reinforced the impression. Shana's breasts were two red, hideously swollen bumps on her chest, and her sex was also swollen and red over the ankles tied to the foot of the cross.
And there was blood between Shana's legs.
Duke was already in motion, although Allie knew he, too, was in shock and trying to hide it. His voice was flat and mechanical as he forced himself to act now, react later. "Snake Eyes, grab the bottom of the cross and steady it until it's flat. I don't want to risk jarring it in any way, or hurting her any more than she's already hurting." They could all hear the broken, harsh-voiced whimpering coming from Shana's cracked, bleeding lips; the sound was ripping Allie's heart out. The last time she'd heard anyone make sounds like that was Alex, on their return trip from the Congo.
As soon as the cross was flat on the floor Snake Eyes was beside Shana, cradling her head in his hands, smoothing her hair back from her forehead and dropping kisses on her temple, practically the only place on her body that wasn't bruised, cut, or bleeding. Shana seemed to respond to that; although there didn't seem to be any sense or reason in her glazed eyes, she did quiet slightly once Snake Eyes touched her.
"Don't start untying her." Lifeline's voice cut through Allie's shock. "Right now the ropes are holding her arms still. If you untie them and she starts to move her arms, she could cause permanent damage." He was checking her arm carefully as Snake Eyes continued to try and soothe Shana. "They placed these nails very, very carefully to avoid nicking her blood vessels, muscles and nerves, and the ropes are tied just tight enough to keep her from moving her arms too much and possibly crippling herself."
"How are we going to get her off?" Allie winced at the plaintive note in her own voice.
Duke's lips tightened into a thin line. "Way I see it only way to keep from possibly crippling her trying to get her off is to cut the head off the nail, then lift her arm up and off the spike itself." He turned to the island woman. "I need two towels, wet, with cool water. And I need a rotary cutter or something that will cut the head off this nail with." The woman nodded and ran off.
Snake Eyes had his canteen out and was carefully tipping water into Shana's mouth. She was swallowing greedily, thirstily, and Allie took in Shana's too-thin form, the bruises and cuts on her torso as Lifeline examined her other arm, then the rest of her body. "What happened to her—to her chest?"
Lifeline shook his head. "I can't say for certain, but I think…some kind of stinging insect. Bees, maybe."
"Bees?" Allie's voice cracked. Jesus, this was getting worse by the minute.
"Allie, you have to pull it together, okay? Snake Eyes is focused completely on her, and Duke has to focus on getting her physically off the cross. I need you to help me now." Lifeline's voice had an edge to it.
With an effort Allie forced down her horror and anguish. "What do you need?"
"Find me a sheet or something we can put over her. I need to see where this blood is coming from."
Allie went to the cells, grabbed a blanket from the floor, and came back. Lifeline draped it over Shana's body, then reached for the ropes tying her ankles down.
As soon as she felt hands on her legs Shana went crazy. Wild, animalistic sounds tore from her throat, and she thrashed in terror. Lifeline quickly drew back, gritting his teeth.
"I can't treat her while she's like this. Damn it."
"Stretcher put Cam to sleep, can you—" Allie started.
Lifeline shook his head. "I can't put her to sleep until her arms are free."
"If she's drugged unconscious while we're taking her arms off the nails, she won't exhibit any reaction if we do something wrong and I won't know I've crippled her until she wakes up. I won't risk that. " Duke spoke tersely.
And at just that moment the woman came back with the two wet handtowels Duke had asked for, as well as a small Dremel rotary tool. And with her was a big Islander. Male. "My husband," she said by way of explanation.
Duke nodded as he took one of the wet towels from the woman. He quickly flipped out the blade of his utility knife and cut a small hole in each one as Allie watched curiously. It wasn't until he knelt next to Shana's arm and laid the cloth over her lower arm in such a way that the head of the nail poked up through the cloth that Allie realized why he'd asked for those items; the cool cloth would protect her skin while they used the rotary cutter to cut through the head of the nail.
As long as she lived, Allie would never, ever forget the cutting process that followed. Revived a little by the water she'd drunk, Shana's agonized screams bounced off the hard rock surfaces of the subterranean torture chamber as minute vibrations, caused by the Dremel cutting through the spike of the nail just under the nail head, traveled down the nail and vibrated against the inner surfaces of Shana's two lower arm bones. Snake Eyes crouched wordlessly next to her, his forehead pressed against hers as if trying to communicate mindlessly. Allie spoke constantly, a repeated litany of "It'll be okay, Shana," and "Hang on there, we'll have you free as soon as we can," but looking at Shana's glazed, blank eyes, she doubted that Shana heard her at all. She doubted if Shana was even still there to see her; when Cam had CPTSD flashbacks, her eyes got that unseeing, empty look; Shana had that too, now, and Allie's heart twisted painfully in her chest at the sight.
It seemed to take an eternity for the cutting process to be done, and Allie saw several of the naval assault troopers who had come with them step out of the room, the sheer horror of the scene too much for them. The Homeland Security stiff stepped in, eyes narrowed, but when he actually saw Shana nailed to that cross his eyes bugged out a bit and he beat a hasty retreat. Allie spared one moment to feel vicious satisfaction when she heard the choked retching sounds from the hallway, then dismissed it in favor of concentrating on her friend.
"Got it!" There was no mistaking the satisfaction in Duke's voice as he and Lifeline took up a station on either side of Shana's right arm, and Allie knelt next to her left, joined a moment later by, of all people, one of the FBI. "All right, untie her arms; Snake Eyes, try and keep her as still as possible. We have to lift her arms straight up off the nails; any tilt to the right or the left could hit a nerve in her arm and cripple her permanently."
"I'll untie her arm. You lift it," the FBI man said to Allie brusquely, who nodded. She heard Duke plead with Shana to brace herself as he counted to three, and then Shana's scream bounced off the wall as Allie and Lifeline lifted her arms free of the nails. For a moment Allie wasn't sure if their attempts at caution had been successful, but when Shana's fists curled in an involuntary spasm of agony, they knew they'd avoided permanent injury.
Duke swiftly wrapped the wet towels around Shana's arms, tying them off firmly. Blood had spurted from the wounds, but not as much as Allie had expected; Lifeline was either right about the nails' careful placement to avoid crippling her or her blood pressure was so low that she didn't have much blood left in her body. Allie decided she'd rather believe Doc was right.
Lifeline was fumbling a syringe out of his bag, and moments later pressed the needle home into Shana's arm. The redhead went limp seconds later, eyes closed, her face assuming a peaceful expression; Allie sat back on her heels, taking in a shuddering breath as Shana was finally, mercifully, released from her pain.
"All right. I've done as much as I can for right now and she's stabilized. Let's get her back to the chopper." Lifeline was busy opening out the collapsible stretcher he'd brought with him; Snake Eyes moved to take Shana's upper body in his arms and lower her to the stretcher; to their surprise, the big male islander moved to Shana's feet and helped lay her down on the stretcher. Duke took the handles at the bottom of the stretcher, Snake Eyes took the top, and with Lifeline following, the group headed slowly up the stairs back out to the chopper, followed by Allie and the FBI agent.
The Navy's assault team had maybe thirty people lined up against the wall in two groups; one group was plainly native, by the color of skin and frightened faces. The other group were all white; ten of them dressed in paramilitary uniforms—ostensibly the guards—and the naval troops had them kneeling with hands on their heads. Three of them, however, were extremely well-dressed; one man in a wheelchair who Allie recognized from the paperwork as being the owner of the island; one thin, pale, dark-haired man who just gave Allie the creeps; and one woman, the only white woman in the group, with hard, dark eyes and distinctly Italian features. Snake Eyes paused for a moment; just one moment, to look the island's owner up and down, and Allie knew at that moment that Death had marked Damien Kennedy as its own. Over the last few weeks as Snake Eyes had struggled to simply exist without Shana there, Allie had thought that when they finally found Shana, Snake Eyes would kill the person who'd been responsible. Now she was certain.
Allie strode across the room and planted herself in front of the man in the wheelchair. "Get. Up." Her voice was so distorted with hatred she almost didn't recognize it herself. "We had a drone overfly the island three days ago while you were throwing our friend off your fishing platform. I saw you then. You don't need a wheelchair. Get. Up."
"Your friend? You consider slaves friends? You should pick your friends more carefully." And he made no move to get up.
Duke grabbed the handles of the wheelchair and spilled the man out of it. "You really have no idea what you've done, do you?" He folded up the wheelchair, shoved it aside; one of the Navy troopers caught it.
"I asked the slaves who they were and how they knew each other. Under extensive interrogation, the Testarossa finally said she knew the Hole from back when they were on a humanitarian mission in the Congo."
Duke was furious; Allie had never seen him so angry before. "Her name is Shana. I suggest you start using it, because no one is going to tolerate you calling her 'Testarossa'. And no one is going to tolerate you calling Cam 'Hole'." He faced the man squarely. "You'll address them as Master Sergeant Shana O'Hara and Corporal Cameron Arlington, both of the US Army. They were captured while on a humanitarian mission in the Congo. They are not slaves. And you are in very, very deep trouble with the American Government for kidnapping one of their own." He turned to the commander of the naval forces. "Put all of them in the brig."
The commander nodded. "Captain Callahan said we'll keep them prisoner until we arrive back at the San Diego Naval Base. Um…we also told Captain Callahan you have two seriously wounded and he says as soon as your entire team is on the Columbia he's going to arrange to expedite your return back to Fort Hamilton." He saw Duke's look. "Yes, all the way back to Fort Hamilton. The Secretary of Defense called to find out how you all were doing and when he heard that you'd recovered your wounded, he said he'd authorize whatever resources are necessary to get you back to your home base."
Duke nodded. "All right. Go ahead and take the natives back to the main island—I understand the island is their home but at the moment it's the location of a crime and they'll have to stay on the mainland until something is settled regarding the owner of the place."
For the first time the FBI guy interjected. "We at the FBI are going to take charge of the prisoners. Once we get to San Diego Naval Base we'll arrange for a transport to take us to Riker's in New York to pursue federal charges against this man in a place where it'll be easy for your people to testify in case of trial."
Duke didn't argue; he was glad it was satisfactorily settled before he had to start putting plans of his own together. At the moment, he'd rather not have to try to plan anything else; he was still in shock over what Shana had looked like when they'd found her, and he desperately just wanted to follow Snake Eyes and Lifeline and to hell with everything else.
The price of command. If he wanted a command of his own one day he had to put aside thoughts of what he wanted and do what his responsibilities called for. And sometimes people understood and would make your job easier—like this guy in the FBI. "All right. Let's not keep them waiting any longer than necessary." He started off at a fast walk toward the helipad, where Shana, Cam, Snake Eyes, Charlie, Stretcher and Lifeline waited. Allie fell into step on his right, and the FBI guy stepped into place on his left. Duke addressed him briskly. "You'll let me know when you settle this guy in at Riker's? He has a lot to answer for what he's done to two highly-skilled, valuable assets to the U.S. Army."
"We'll give you a call and let you know. Um, First Sergeant…I want you to know…I'm sorry. Shana O'Hara is a valuable asset to the FBI too; she's maintained her clearance with us but we all knew she was dedicated to the Army and her team on your base, and we also knew there was no way she would defect. We knew that even though Homeland Security said otherwise."
It was the closest thing to an apology that Duke had heard from anyone since the whole fiasco started, and he was oddly comforted by it."Thank you," he said, and he meant it as he stopped and shook the FBI agent's hand. "That's the first time in all of this someone has expressed any kind of human compassion."
"Then it's long overdue. Good luck, First Sergeant. Both of your soldiers have a long road ahead of them as far as recovery goes, and I have no doubt that they are in the best of hands to help with that recovery." He saluted Duke as he said, "I'll let you know when we get to New York and we have this piece of crap stowed away at Riker's. Best of luck, First Sergeant."
Duke saluted, and then he and Allie stepped onto the helicopter. Cam and Shana were both unconscious, sleeping apparently peacefully. Charlie was helping Stretcher strap massive bags of ice over Cam's swollen, dislocated shoulders; Snake Eyes was holding Shana's arms and legs steady as Lifeline wrapped bandages around the raw chafe marks on her ankles and wrists.
"Are we all here? All ready to go?"At everyone's nod, Duke swung the helicopter closed. "Let's go home."