Once again, a huge thank you goes out to Louis and MJ85 for their help with this chapter.
I watched as Jason fell, almost as if it were in slow motion.
I stood there in shock, unable to move. My eyes met Jason's. What were once filled with passion and love, now displayed fear and uncertainty. His knees, unable to hold his weight, gave out first. Our eyes remained locked as he continued to fall. Every part of my brain was screaming at me to run to him, but my body wouldn't budge.
My trance was broken when the team's designated medic rushed to Jason's side. He opened his bag and pulled out supplies to control the bleeding. Stomach wounds such as this were often hit or miss. If we could get him to the hospital in time, he had a chance for survival. My biggest fear was that the bullet had hit a major organ that would release toxic acids into his blood stream, eventually causing sepsis.
Before I could even realize I was falling, I felt a pair of arms wrap around me and pull me back up. I knew it was Mitch. I struggled to break free from his grasp, but he held on tighter.
“Let him work,” Mitch said. “Jason will be alright, we have a helicopter on the way to transport him to the hospital.”
“He's going to die.”
“No he's not. Stop thinking like that.”
“Not Jason,” I said, turning to face him. “Gordon. He just signed his own death warrant.”
“I'll help you in any way I can, you know that, but now isn't the time to think about it. We need to get Jason to the hospital and let his father know what happened.”
I shuddered at the thought of telling Jason's father. If Jason somehow didn't make it, he would blame me for his son's death.
Mitch must have sensed the thoughts running through my head. “It's not your fault. You had no way of knowing there was another shooter. You can't protect someone when you don't know there's a threat. If anything, this was my fault. I should have had my guys clear the area before we called you back.”
I shook my head. Typical Mitch. He always had to be the good guy that protected everyone else, even if it meant putting his own ass on the line. I could never quite figure out if he was a genuinely nice guy, or if it was all an act; not that it mattered anymore.
The thumping of the helicopter could be heard in the distance. When it came into view, I noticed it was not the CareFlight chopper I was expecting. It was slightly smaller and had no identifying marks visible, so I assumed it was either privately owned, or stolen. The pilot circled overhead looking for a clearing large enough to land. After hovering around for a few minutes, he finally landed on the dirt road leading back to the street a few hundred yards away. Mitch ran towards the chopper, giving me a chance to talk to the medic helping Jason.
“How is he?” I asked, taking Jason's hand.
“I'm not sure. I've controlled the bleeding as much as possible, but there's no way of knowing the extent of his internal injuries until we get him into surgery. He's unconscious, but he's still breathing. Pulse is weak, but he's definitely a fighter. It takes more than medicine for people to live. They also have to have the will to survive.”
He glanced at my hands and realized I was still holding Jason's hand, gently stroking the backside. Not in the mood to deal with bullshit, I grabbed his hand fully and glared at the medic. Whether he knew of my reputation for violence, or was just sympathetic to my situation, he simply nodded and went back to work.
Mitch came back carrying a backboard to transport Jason. The medic and I carefully rolled Jason on his side while Mitch slid the board under his back. After securing him with the straps, we were ready to put him in the helicopter. Mitch bent down to grab one end of the board while the medic grabbed the other.
I stopped Mitch before he could lift it. “Let me do it.”
He stepped away without argument and I took his place. I nodded to the medic and we lifted the board on the count of three, then quickly carried him to the waiting helicopter while Mitch ran ahead to open the doors. The medic climbed in and pulled the board in. I climbed in behind them when the pilot stopped me.
“We’re at max capacity,” he shouted over the roar of the engine. “This bird can only take 4 people. Anything more and there’s a chance we could go down!”
I disembarked and threw open the co-pilot’s door and motioned for him to get out.
“Are you crazy? Do you even know how to fly one of these?”
“You’re the fucking co-pilot! You don’t even do the flying, now get out of the damned chopper and let me in!”
When it was clear the co-pilot wasn’t going to willingly cooperate, I pulled my sidearm out and aimed it at his head. “Get out. Now!”
“Derek, what the hell are you doing?” Mitch shouted from behind me.
“I’m going with him.”
“They’re going to Mercy West Hospital. We can be there in less than 20 minutes by car. Let them do their jobs!”
“I’m not leaving him alone!”
Mitch sighed heavily. “Then you give me no choice.”
Before I could turn around, I felt the prongs of his stun gun on my neck. My body convulsed as I lost control of all motor functions. The three second burst of electricity was enough to temporarily paralyze my body. My legs gave out and I crumbled to the dirt. Mitch closed the helicopter doors and pulled me away so they could take off. I watched helplessly from the ground as the high pitch whine from the rotors grew louder. The helicopter lifted off the ground and made its way north towards the hospital.
“I’m sorry,” Mitch said.
I could still feel the side-effects of the stun-gun, but was beginning to regain control of my body. “You fucking tazed me!”
“It was for your own good! And Jason’s.”
“I had a gun to the co-pilot’s head! You could have gotten him killed!”
“The safety was on and your finger wasn’t on the trigger, he was fine. Besides, I only used 300,000 volts.”
I jumped up and took a swing at him, but was having a hard time keeping my balance. Mitch easily dodged my blow and pushed me back. I landed on my ass again.
“Are we done? Your boyfriend was shot and is on his way to the hospital, but you wanna keep playing tough guy, trying to fight me. Get your head out of your ass and get in the damn car.”
“I can take you. If you didn’t cheat, it would be your ass on the ground right now,” I mumbled.
“Listen to yourself, Derek. Grow up for once in your life and realize that it’s not always about you.”
The words stung more than I thought they would, but I knew he was right. All that mattered now was getting to Jason. I held my hand out and Mitch helped me to my feet.
“You guys stay here and get someone to clean this mess up,” Mitch said to the remainder of his team.
“I told you I would take care of it.”
“Shut up and get in the car, Derek. I’m done playing games. If you don’t get in, I’m leaving without you. You can walk to the hospital for all I care.”
Mitch was visibly pissed. We climbed into his Tahoe and took off to the hospital with him behind the wheel.
“You have no right to be this mad,” I said, breaking the silence. “It’s myboyfriend that got shot.”
“Then why don’t you start acting like it.”
We continued down the mountain at dangerous speeds. I decided to keep my mouth shut. As we rounded a sharp turn, the rear tires skidded across the gravel road. Mitch was able to regain control in time to avoid crashing into the guardrail and down the side of the mountain. He eased off the gas, but didn’t say a word.
“Thank you,” I said. Mitch ignored me and focused on driving. “For everything. You saved our lives today. Thank you.”
“What if it was you?”
“You want to know why I’m so pissed? Because I can’t stop thinking that it could have been you that took that bullet.”
“It was supposed to be me. I wish it was me.”
Mitch gripped the wheel harder. His knuckles turned a pearly white. “You don’t get it.”
“Then tell me, Mitch. I’m not a damn mind reader.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Do you remember the first time we met? It was in France. You shot me.”
“Of course I remember. It was an accident. A thru-and-thru that you recovered from pretty quickly. Besides, you just tazed me. On purpose. That makes us sort of even.”
Mitch slammed on the brakes and pulled to the side of the road. It was unexpected and I didn't have time to brace myself. My forehead hit the dashboard with a loud thump.
“What the fuck!” I screamed as I held my head, now throbbing from the pain. “First you taze me, and then you try and give me a concussion? Now we are even.”
Mitch dug beneath his vest and pulled out the chain around his neck. Attached to it was a small, clear vial. Inside was a bullet.
“What the hell is that?”
“The bullet you shot me with.”
“You wear it around your neck?”
Mitch nodded. “Ever since that day. I've never taken it off.”
“Because it reminds me of you. It reminds me of France, and the time we spent together. You were there for me through my recovery. You refused to leave even when Gordon ordered you to.”
I finally realized what this was about. Mitch stared at me with tears in his eyes. Even in pain, I had never seen Mitch cry. He was the strong one. Always a leader and the first one through a door.
“That was a long time ago, Mitch,” I whispered.
“I remember it like it was yesterday. I always will.”
“Don't do this to me. We agreed to move on. It was your idea you son of a bitch!”
“I know. I was selfish. I couldn't stand the thought of losing you on a mission. I knew if we continued our relationship, it would compromise the team. I would always be looking out for you more than anyone else.” The tears streamed down his face and he refused to look at me.
“But you left the company. Why didn't you reach out after we stopped working together? Why wait until today to tell me?”
“Because I tried to bury those feelings. I knew you moved on and were happy with someone else. How could I try and take that away from you?”
“Mitch, I can't...”
“Don't. Just don't say anything. I'm sorry for this. Just forget I said anything. We need to get to the hospital.”
Mitch put the car back into gear and sped off. We didn’t speak, or look at each other for the remaining 15 minutes of the journey. I was lost in thought, remembering the time we spent together.
We pulled up to the emergency room and I jumped out. I ran into the medic in the waiting room. He still had his gear on, but was now sporting an FBI Hostage Rescue Team patch and badge.
“He's in surgery,” he said, before I had a chance to ask. “They think he was the victim of a hostage situation, so they're keeping me informed and didn't call the police. But you don't have credentials and aren't family, so they won't let you see him.”
“I should call his father and get him down here.”
“No need. He's already been informed and is on his way here. Where's Mitch?”
I looked behind me, but couldn't find him. The SUV was gone. “Probably parking the car.”
“Always such a boyscout,” he smirked.
I had to walk away before I punched him in the face and went outside to wait for Mitch. There were a few people smoking in a clearing across the parking. Though I had quit two years ago, the temptation was overwhelming. I bummed a smoke from someone and sat on a bench.
As the first puff of smoke hit my lungs, it was like a hot coal had been shoved into my throat. But as the nicotine invaded my bloodstream, it caused an immediate high and overall sense of euphoria. My body shivered and sent a tingling sensation shooting through my arms and legs. Just this one cigarette.
I was so lost in thought that I failed to notice someone had sat down beside me. I assumed it was Mitch, but wasn't in the mood to talk. I took another drag on my cigarette when he spoke.
“Those are bad for you, ya know.”
I choked as I tried to exhale and went into a violent coughing fit. It was Mr. Lang, Jason's father, sitting next to me, surrounded by three of his bodyguards. They formed a rough perimeter around us, each about 20 feet away. They were giving us privacy.
“I know. I quit a long time ago, but after everything that's happened, I figured it was better than going to the bar,” I said, dropping the cigarette. I stomped it out.
“Sounds like you've had a rough day, Kiddo.”
“Sir, if anything happened to Jason...” I stopped when he put his hand up to silence me.
“He'll be alright. He's out of surgery and in the ICU. Doctors say he'll make a full recovery. Physically at least.”
“Oh, thank God!” I sighed with tears in my eyes. “But what do you mean 'physically at least'?”
“They said he woke up briefly, but only long enough to say, 'Keep Derek away from me', before losing consciousness again.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means, Kiddo, that you can't go in there and see him.”
“I'm sorry, Derek,” he cut me off. “But Jason is my son and I need to respect his wishes. I know this wasn't your fault, and on some level Jason probably does too, but I think it's best if you stay away from him for now. I'll be transporting him home as soon as he's stable. We have a medical facility that rivals the best. When he's awake, I'll try to talk to him about you, but I can't make any promises.”
I nodded in response. I couldn't blame him, he almost lost his only son because of me.
Mr. Lang put his hand on my shoulder before he turned to go. “He'll come around, Kiddo. Just give him time.”
“In the meantime, I'll keep you updated on his condition.”
“Thank you, sir.”
His bodyguards closed in around him. They continuously scanned the area for threats. Rumor had it that they were all ex Secret Service. Mr. Lang stopped and turned to me just before he was out of earshot.
“Oh, and Derek...”
“Your assignment is on hold until we deal with Gordon. I want him dead by the end of the week. Use any means necessary. Coordinate with Mitch for anything you need from me.”
With that, he left to find Jason, the only person in the world that I wanted to see right now. The pain inside me slowly gave way to a seething fury towards the man that did this. I would kill him, but I needed help. I needed Mitch.
I hadn't seen him cross the parking lot to get to the emergency room, so he must have been waiting in the car. A quick scan of the parking lot, however, didn't reveal his Tahoe. I dialed his cell, but it went to voicemail after two rings. It obviously wasn't turned off since it rang, which meant he was deliberately ignoring me.
Of the three people in the world I could trust with my life, two of them wanted nothing to do with me. There was only one person left to call, but it would not be an easy one to make. With the sun setting and the air colder, I figured a few drinks couldn't hurt before I made the call.
I flagged down a cab and told the driver to take me to the darkest, quietest bar he could think of. Apparently it was a frequent request, as he didn't flinch or question my request. For the first time that day, the silence of a drive wasn't awkward. It was rather enjoyable.
The cab driver dropped me off in an area of town that most people wouldn't want to travel in during daylight, much less during the darkness that now engulfed the streets. In the the bar not a single person looked my way. There were four others at the bar counter, each alone, hunched over their drinks. The bartender stood in the corner watching Jeopardy, paying no attention to any of his patrons, not that any of them seemed to mind.
I picked a seat at the end of the bar so I could have full view of the door and anyone walking in. It was a habit ingrained in me every time I was in an unfamiliar place. I didn't like people sitting behind me, and the layout of the bar gave me a perfect seat.
When I finally sat down, the bartender came my way. He wasn't unfriendly, but he didn't seem to care one way or the other if I was even there.
“What'll it be?”
“Jack and Coke and a shot of Jameson.”
He walked away without acknowledgment to make my drinks. The pour was heavy for my drink and the shot would have been considered a double in most bars.
“Rough day?” he asked as I downed my shot in one gulp.
“Something like that.”
“You're not from around here.”
It was more of a statement than a question.
“What brings you to our neck of the woods?”
I sighed. “Can I ask you a question?”
He shrugged in response. I got the feeling he had been bartending here for long enough that he'd probably heard enough stories to write a book on depressed alcoholics, but it was his own damned fault for starting the conversation.
“Do you believe in karma?”
“Is that a serious question?” I had piqued his interest at least.
“Yes. The notion that doing good deeds results in good things happening to that person, while doing bad things results in the opposite.”
“I know what karma is.”
“Well do you believe in it?”
Rather than answer, he walked away towards the other end of the bar. When he returned, he was carrying the bottle of Jameson and another shot glass. He poured and lifted his glass.
“Derek,” I replied, and raised my glass.
We drained our glasses and he turned back to Jeopardy. Maybe that was his trick. If you spoke too much or annoyed him, John would fill you with alcohol to the point where you would no longer remember what you were saying. A nice tactic to shut someone up. I got the hint and left John to his game show. I took a sip of my drink and cringed. I wasn't sure if he heard me say Coke earlier because it tasted like pure Jack Daniels.
“It's a mind game,” John said.
“Karma. It's an excuse people use in their lives to make themselves feel better about life. When they do a good deed, they hope it will bring them good karma. They can't stand the thought of doing something good and receiving nothing in return, so they trick their mind into thinking that further down the road, life will reward them for their good deed.
It's like a horoscope or a fortune cookie. No matter what it says, the person reading it will adjust the statement to fit a situation in their lives. If they decide the fortune will be good before they even open it, then in that person's mind, regardless of what it says, it will be. They make it so generic that it could apply to anyone's life.”
“What about bad karma?”
“Same thing. If someone thinks bad things are happening because of karma, it's probably because they made bad choices earlier in life. It's a defense mechanism so they don't have to examine the choices they make in life. In some ways, it's a lot like how people use religion these days.”
“Not a big church-goer I'm guessing?”
John grunted in response. It may have been as close to a laugh as he got.
Our conversation was interrupted by the sound of someone walking through the door. An older man with a full beard and dressed in tattered clothing came in. Maybe one of the many homeless living in the area. He started pestering the other patrons for change, but looked around the bar as if he were searching for someone. When he noticed John coming towards him, he turned and shuffled his way back towards the door. Something about him threw a red flag in my mind, but that may have been the alcohol taking over. With one last glance over his shoulder, the bum pushed the door open and disappeared into the night.
“Does that happen a lot?” I asked when John came back.
“Yeah, but they're usually pretty harmless. Most of the time they don't even bother coming in unless it's busy. They know most of the people that come in here don't have much money to begin with. Maybe they saw you come in and wanted a shot at harassing the new guy.”
“That's what I'm afraid of. Did he look familiar to you?”
“No, but you know how it is. Those guys come and go. It's hard to keep track of them after a while. Most of them stick to certain areas, but every now and then I'll see a new face pop in here.”
I nodded silently. I still didn't like the situation. It felt wrong somehow.
“Where's your restroom?”
“Pisser is in the back, through that hallway, second door on the left. Another drink?” he asked, eying my glass of melting ice.
“Sure, why not.”
I walked down the hallway and found the restroom. Afterward, I washed my hands and made my way back to my seat. There was a back door, but it appeared to be locked and only used in case of an emergency. Still, it did little to ease a feeling of trouble brewing nearby.
I returned to my seat. Another gentleman had joined the bar group. He sat between two of the other guys and looked like he genuinely fit in here. Hunched over his glass of liquor, eyes down, ignoring everyone around him.
“So is this karma you're having the good or the bad kind?” John asked.
“Karma is the figment of my imagination apparently.”
“It's a long story that I can't really go into. It just seems like every time things start looking up, it all comes crashing down. I now have no job, no friends, and very likely just lost at love.”
“Sounds like you're due for a fresh start, my friend. Karma or not, life is what you make of it. Too many people hold on to the past, desperately clinging to what they once had. They forget to live in the present. The past they keep longing for was once the present that they ignored when they should have been looking to the future.”
“You know, for someone who hates fortune cookies and horoscopes, you sound an awful lot like one.”
John shrugged. “People have enough problems in life. I just tell them what they want to hear.”
As John went to make his round and refill drinks, I scanned the bar again. My eyes settled on the gentleman that came in last. He wasn't looking my way and didn't seem to be listening to our conversation. The drink he ordered was in front of him, untouched. He wasn't here to drown life's problems away with booze like the rest of us.
Part of me was regretting drinking as much as I had.
“Hey John, does that guy look familiar to you?”
“No, why? Should he?”
“So he's not a regular then?”
John looked over at the man. “Nope. Never seen him before. Why?”
“I just find it a bit odd that he hasn't touched his drink yet. You don't exactly come to a bar like this for the companionship. No offense.”
John walked down to the man and started speaking with him. “Hey buddy, something wrong with the drink?”
“No. Tastes just fine.”
“You haven't even tried it yet.”
“Is there a problem here?” The man asked and glanced my way.
I didn't like where this was going. The guy was raising too many red flags in my head. After the homeless man and now this guy, I had a feeling they weren't who they seemed to be.
“Hey John!” I shouted down to him so everyone could hear. “I'm gonna use the pisser again. Can you line me up another shot and a drink?”
John turned his attention towards me as I stood up and stumbled off the bar stool. Though the liquor I drank did have me feeling pretty good, it was no where near enough to get me as drunk as I was acting. If these guys wanted to play games, I was ready.
I stumbled down the hallway to the restroom but stopped when I heard the man get up and exit the bar. I quickly reversed my course and got John's attention at the bar.
“Forget the drinks,” I said. “Remember how we were talking about bad karma?”
“Well I think it's here. I can't really explain it, but I'm pretty sure that man was here for me. If I'm right, he'll be back any minute and he won't be alone.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Do you have a gun?”
“What? Well yeah, but why does that matter?”
“Where is it?”
“There's a shotgun at the other end of the bar next to the register, and there's a handgun in my desk in the office.”
I paused for a moment. “You have a shotgun under the bar? I thought that was only in movies.”
John shrugged. “Seemed like a good idea to me. But why are you asking? You think these guys are going to try and rob us or something?”
“Not exactly. I think they may be a hit crew assigned to kill me.”
John didn't respond.
“Look, it's a long story. I'm going to go to your office and grab your other gun. When they come in, tell them I'm still in the bathroom. Whatever you do, don't pull out the shotgun in front of them. If they see you going for it, you'll be dead before you can get a shot off.”
“I think you've had a little too much to drink, son.”
“Just trust me here John. Do what I said and we'll all walk out of this bar alive.”
“Same hallway as the bathroom, door on the right. It should be unlocked. The gun is in the top left drawer. It's loaded.”
“Thanks. And remember what I said.”
I hurried off down the hallway and entered John's office, if it could even be called that. The room was the size of a small closet. The desk had a computer on it, but it appeared as if no one had used it in years. I opened the top left drawer and groaned. Like everything else in the bar, the six shot revolver was extremely old and outdated. I checked to see if it was loaded and made a mental note to give John the finger. It was loaded, but with only 4 bullets. I would have to be extremely careful with my shots.
The sound of the front door opening made my heart beat a little faster. The sound of someone opening the back door, however, chilled me to the bone.
Once again, a huge thank you goes out to Louis and MJ85 for their help with this chapter.