Inspector Enrique Solorzano found a parking spot for the police car just near the entrance and he hoped this could be a good omen for the rest of the week. The last week at the station had been full of problems and work, resulting in such a mess that he felt he needed a change. He went to the reception desk where a middle-aged clerk referred him to the doctor who had asked for him.
The inspector was welcomed by a young doctor, with a baby-face and deep dark eyes.
“Good morning Doctor. I’m Inspector Enrique Solorzano. How can I help you?”
“Good morning Inspector. Thank you for your kindness in answering my request. My name is Samuel Caruso.”
“I’ve been told that you wanted to talk to me regarding a patient of yours.”
“Yes, it’s a strange story. Last night, after midnight, the night shift nurse heard a noise coming from the street. Like a car stopping, a door opening and closing soon after. She went outside and found this stranger lying on the ground. She surmised he had been thrown from the car she had heard. We brought him in for medical attention. He was and still is unconscious and suffering from the effects of some chemical substance.”
“Why is this man different?”
“There are things about him that make me think he’s not the usual tourist who screwed up his brain with something he wasn’t sure of. Come with me, I’ll show you what I mean.”
Solorzano followed the doctor to a room close to the office.
As they walked in, the inspector took a closer look at the man on the bed.
He looked big, broad-shouldered, with powerful arms, clearly not the usual skin-and-bones drug-addict. During his examination, the doctor went on explaining his doubts. “As you can see he looks in a far too good shape for a junkie. The exams show that his veins are filled with enough drug to sedate a horse, but not the signs of a long-term addiction. His nose isn’t burned by cocaine and the only sign of a needle on his arm is a position you wouldn’t choose unless you were a left-handed contortionist,” he said pointing at the man’s right bicep. “And there are other strange particulars. His skin is bruised near his eyes, as if he had been kept blindfolded. And look at his wrists.” The inspector saw the dark bruises, more marked on the exterior. “He has similar scars on his ankles too. I think he had been held prisoner somewhere. And, last but not least, we kept his clothes. I guess you will find them interesting.”
He opened a metal locker, producing a camouflage shirt and trousers, as well as a pair of heavy-duty boots. The right one had an empty sheath of the size of a big knife. Solorzano looked at the stranger’s outfit, puzzled.
The negotiation had gone so smoothly that Terry was getting nervous. He was a true believer in Murphy’s Law and he began to wonder why he had that sense of up-coming disaster. The delivery of the money and the retrieval of the cargo had been fixed for the following day at noon and he had already had the last meeting with his staff. There was nothing else to do but wait.
“Is his life in danger?” Solorzano asked, noticing the stillness of the man on the bed; he seemed to barely breath.
“I don’t think so. His body is fighting against the poison in his veins. He has some bruises, but he looks pretty good. If he had been restrained and kept blindfolded, his problems will began as soon as he’ll regains consciousness. He will have problems walking and with the light.”
“I’m going to take his finger prints. Could you lend me an ink-pad and some paper?”
“Sure, I’ll be right back.”
The cargo, a young technician who had paid for an engineering mistake with three months of his life stood stiffly in front of Terry. The kidnappers, all in camouflage garb and balaclavas, were counting the money delivered in a backpack, as they had expressly asked. They seemed in no hurry and Terry stood just as calm, scanning the surroundings. The local flora seemed to add to a sense of drama, silhouetted against the blue sky, proud and wild all over the mountains.
“All right, Stranger, you were true to your word,” the rebel chief spoke directly to Terry. “Your men can take the guy, but you stay here.”
“Why? You have what you asked for and we didn’t play tricks,” Terry answered, watching some of the rebels raising their automatic weapons in his direction. Everything had been planned.
“Because I don’t trust anyone and you’ll be our pass to ensure nobody follows us to our headquarters. You’re coming with us, or you’re going to die right here. Don’t resist and nobody will get hurt.”
Terry’s mind worked frantically on a solution, but to no avail. He looked at the cargo; watching his exhausted eyes, he made his decision. He raised his hands in surrender.
A picture of a younger Terrence Thorne stood out on the monitor.
“God bless technology,” Solorzano decided, reading a short biography of the stranger at the hospital.
“Wow! Who’s that beauty? May I have his phone number?” a voice asked from behind him.
“What if I’d report to your Mama just a fraction of the scandalous things that come out of your sweet red mouth, Angelina?”
“Print out a picture of that hunk for her, too, and I’ll be completely forgiven. She’s still able to appreciate a masterpiece when she sees one. Jokes aside, why are you interested in a former SAS agent from Australia?” she asked reading the first words on the page.
“He’s currently lying flat on his back, lost in a drug-induced slumber at the local hospital. I was trying to discover how he got there and why. “
Scrolling down the page they both read about the rest of his career trying to find a clue about what to do with him.
Terry saw the helicopter vanishing in the distance with the cargo and his squad, his hands over his head. He turned slowly toward the chief.
“And now, what?” he asked.
“Relax, Yankee, consider this a holiday.”
“Australia. I’m from Australia.”
“Beautiful country.” The man gestured to a soldier to come closer to check their new prisoner for weapons. He found the knife in his boot, nothing else.
“You’re lucky, Mister. You’ll bring the money. I couldn’t think of a better place.” The rebel put the backpack on Terry’s shoulders, then bound his wrists in front of him. “This way,” he muttered, giving Terry a little shove of encouragement with his automatic weapon.
Angelina discovered that the information about the stranger wasn’t up-to-date. When she called Luthan Risk, a rather cool sounding manager stated that Mr. Thorne had started a new business on his own and, no, he didn’t know his new address. She thanked him, thinking of another way to find what she needed.
“I hope you enjoy riding, Mister, or else you’ll have to walk.”
Terry watched the small but strong horses hidden near the place where he was abducted. He was steered toward a black animal, munching the grass without paying attention to the humans. He mounted with a grace that spoke of his skill, while the others around did the same. When the group was about to move, the man in charge of Terry came close with a piece of cloth. He blindfolded him.
“Sorry to deprive you of the sight of our mountains, but we need to keep our place for our eyes only,” the chief said.
At his signal the column moved to the mountains.
T&D LTD was a rather new, but renowned firm in the K&R trade. It had been founded by two of the most famous professionals in the field, with headquarters in the Cayman Islands, and two operations branches in New York and London.
Angie surmised that the “T” was for Terry and the “D” for Dino, i.e. the sleeping beauty and redhead with a wicked smile, evident even in a passport-sized picture. She grabbed the phone and asked the switchboard operator for an international call.
“T&D LTD, good afternoon, how can I help you?”
“Good afternoon, this is Angelina Duarte from the Police of Maraus. I have news for you.”
Terry couldn’t be sure on how long the journey had lasted, but he knew that they had reached a higher altitude. The air had grown thinner and colder. He shivered slightly in his shirt, clearly not designed for mountaineering. At one point, a cold wind began to blow and he hunched over on the saddle to offer a smaller surface to its’ frozen bite, but without great success. Someone put a poncho over his shoulders and he thanked his unknown benefactor. He was trying to pay attention to what was going on around him, guessing from the sounds he heard what his eyes couldn’t tell him. But cradled by the steady rhythm of his horse along the bumpy road, he ended up dozing off every now and then in his world without light.
If he had thought that it could have been useful, Dino would have howled in frustration. Terry had been gone for a week and he still had no clue of his friend’s whereabouts. The people Terry had contacted for the negotiation for the release of their latest cargo had simply vanished like ghosts and he was trying to get in touch with all his channels to find out something. The phone rang.
“Dino here, who’s this?”
“Hi Dino, this is Trisha from New York. Hold on to your seat, I have good news for you.”
His place in the rebel headquarters was a small room with a cot and from what Terry could guess, nearly nothing else. They let him relieve himself before steering him inside. They secured the rope around his wrists to a chain behind the cot, binding his ankles too.
“I ought to feel flattered for being considered so dangerous,” he though bitterly.
Later that evening they brought him food. He felt like a small child when a woman fed him with a spoon. But the soup tasted good and he was ravenous. She also gave him water and bread before leaving him alone in his silent prison.
Dino’s first stop was the police station. “Mrs. Duarte please,” he asked the front desk officer who indicated the way to her office. He discovered a pretty woman in her middle-thirties with short curly hair and a friendly smile. He liked her from the very first moment.
Despite the fact that he was kept restrained, Terry’s kidnappers weren’t cruel to him. He ate the same food as they did. They didn’t try to humiliate him by following him during his visits to the latrine. Only once a young soldier had slapped him when his legs had given way under him after having remained in the same position for too long. He had raised his tied arms to protect himself from what he thought was going to happen, but a woman’s firm voice had stopped the punishment.
“What are you doing, you fool?”
“He refused to move.”
“Didn’t it occur to you that his legs might need a little time to function again, after having been still for such a long time? If we are cruel, how can we allege that we’re fighting against the government’s cruelty? Help him get up.”
Terry felt a hand grabbing his elbow and the boy helped him to rise. Slowly he was marched outside.
“Well Mrs. Duarte, my secretary told me that you found someone we’ve lost.”
“Yes, I think so. Your partner had been delivered to the threshold of our hospital.”
“How’s he doing? Has he been hurt?”
“From what I know he had been heavily drugged, but the doctors say he’s in good shape. He will probably have problems when he wakes up.”
“May I see him?”
“Sure, let’s go.”
She grabbed her bag, telling a colleague that she would be back soon.
Terry wasn’t afraid about his chances of survival, but he was restless and frustrated. His arms and legs suffered under their restraints, but the imprisonment was taking the bigger toll on his active nature. He had too much time to think, to speculate about his life. He rehearsed and replayed all what had happened, trying to find the exact moment when everything went to hell, but to no avail.
His captors never spoke with him. He had tried to talk but they simply didn’t answer, as if he hadn’t spoken at all. He had started to recognize them, using his ears and nose. There was a young man, always walking as if he was in a hurry. He had the acid smell of nervousness. He was the one who had hit him. Then there was a woman, with a sweet scent of soap and cleanliness. She was nice when she fed him, helping him without goading him. Terry wondered about what she looked like. Too bad he’d never have the chance to know.
Arriving at the hospital, Angie and Dino were told that Terry was starting to show signs that he was waking up. They hurried to his room.
Terry was dreaming when he heard a voice whispering in his ears.
“Goodbye beautiful stranger. I wish we had met in a different situation. Sleep well, you’ll soon be free.”
He tried to speak, unsure if he was still dreaming, but he felt the touch of soft lips over his mouth, while a needle pricked his right arm. A strange heaviness engulfed his mind in a darker dream.
A nurse and a doctor were checking Terry, while Dino and Angelina were observing from behind a glass. They could see from the monitors that his heart rate was nearing a normal one, while his brain activity was improving.
Terry’s mind had finally found an escape from the thick fog that had poisoned his dreams. He heard voices and while he was coming back to his senses, he felt that he was no longer restrained or blindfolded. He opened his eyes and a flash of a blinding white light shot right though his brain, making him wince in pain. He tried again but someone put a hand on his eyes.
“Don’t try and open your eyes for a while, the light here is too much to bear for you at present.”
“Who are you…?” he asked hoarsely, accepting the piece of advice “Where am I?”
“I’m Doctor Samuel Caruso. You’re in Maraus hospital. Do you remember what happened to you?”
“I …. I … I was prisoner somewhere in the mountains. How did I get here?”
“You were delivered to our door about a day and half ago. Your kidnappers were kind enough to leave you where you could be helped.”
Terry tried to raise his arms but his muscles refused to obey. He knew that this would happen, but he growled in frustration, nonetheless. The doctor checked his eyes carefully with a small lamp; the light hurt, but not so much as before.
“You’ll need to acquaint yourself again with the light and with your limbs,” the doctor added. “But you’re in good shape, considering what you’ve been through. You have a guest. Do you feel strong enough to meet him?”
“If it’s a redhead I don’t know him,” Terry joked and Caruso laughed.
Dino saw the doctor gesture to him and entered the room. Terry had his eyes still shut and was pale, but looked pretty good, everything considered. He grabbed his friend’s right hand and he was happy to feel the attempt to squeeze back.
“If you wanted a vacation, you could have asked, I’m your partner not your boss. We could have talked about this,” Dino joked and witnessed a grin curling Terry’s lips.
“You’re always complaining when I take a day off.”
“How are you, Terry?”
“What do you think?”
“Well, you look like shit, but I think you’ll survive.”
“Thank you, Mate. You know how to reassure a friend.”
“You’re welcome. Now I’ll leave you to the doctor, here. We’ll talk later. I’ve a brought with me a beautiful lady who’s eager to interview you. Be good to her.”
“All right, Dino, thank you for coming.”
“Thank you for being alive,” Dino answered and after a last squeeze to Terry’s hand he walked away with a grin plastered on his face.