Authors: J.L. Drake
“Savannah,” Keith says as he slips onto the stool next to me, “will you be all right while I’m gone?” I nod, feeling very tired. He takes my chin in his hand “Savi, Mike is easy to talk to, and Derek will be hovering around more than normal. None of your disappearing acts, you hear me? Right now with The American—”
“I won’t,” I cut him off, pushing up from my stool. “Be safe,” I whisper as I walk out into the living room and sit down in my favorite place in front of the fire. Scoot, the little shit housecat, comes immediately to me and rolls onto his back, flops his legs open, and purrs until I give him some attention. I let my mind wander, remembering sitting on the floor scratching Scoot when Cole first joined me. Cole rubbed his belly with the warmest smile. I wipe my cheeks. Lowering my head to the floor, I tune in to the crackle of the fire.
“Merry Christmas,” I whisper as I kiss Scoot’s furry head and slowly drift off to sleep.
Cole presses his mouth to the small hole in the wall, attempting to suck in some fresh night air to clear his head. His wrists are handcuffed to the water pipe. They’re rubbed raw and blistering. His ankles are bound by ropes, and he’s freezing because he is wearing only his army pants. They took his shoes and shirt right before the beating started.
His head flops back, resting on the cement wall. Savannah’s sweet voice finds him, and he gets lost in his thoughts.
“Promise me you’ll come back to me.” Her dark eyes are flooded with tears. It’s against all Army and personal rules, but if this is what it takes to make the look go away, then he’ll promise her the world.
“I promise, baby.” He wraps his arms around her. “I want to hold you.” She nods as he takes her hand, walking down the path.
“It’s so pretty through here,” she whispers, trying to break the sadness of the situation. “The forest just goes for miles and miles. It’s an endless path to who knows where.” She clears her throat. “So much freedom.” He squeezes her hand. “Have you ever just wanted to follow the moonlight?”
He glances over to see the moon is casting a trail deep into the forest. “I have thought of that, many times, actually.” They both walk, deep in thought.
Suddenly she stops dead in her tracks. “Run away with me.”
His lips curl up as he brings their joined hands to his mouth and kisses her fingers. “I’d love nothing more than to run away with you, Savannah. But running won’t make what I do for a living go away. It’s a part of me.” He wipes a stray tear off her trembling chin, soaking up this moment with her. “I’m nothing without you.” He leans down, catching her lips and kissing her softly. “And you, baby, are the best part of me.”
Drawing her lip in between her teeth, she nods. Letting out a long breath, she turns to gather herself.
“You want to head back?” She slowly shakes her head. “What do you want to do?”
She steps over to the edge of the cliff, looking down at the house. She spreads her arms out as wide as they can go.
“I want to fly,” she whispers.
Cole pulls out his radio, watching her head tilt to look up at the sky. “Mark, you there?”
“Roger.” Mark laughs over the radio.
“I need you to get Mike to bring me something.”
Several minutes later Mike appears off to the side. “Have fun.” He winks before he runs back down the path.
Cole grins as he walks over to Savannah, who is still lost in thought.
“Your wish is granted.” Her eyes open then drop to what Cole is holding. “You said you wanted to fly.”
The smile that runs across her lips is the sweetest thing. He takes a minute to let it etch into his memory.
He points the wooden toboggan down a clear path and tugs Savannah between his legs.
She wraps his arms around her waist. “Ready.”
He pushes off, and they start to move and pick up speed. Savannah’s laugh echoes off the mountains, making him laugh. She jumps up and offers him a hand. He takes it, pulling her back down on his lap.
Something runs across her face and a tiny smile appears. “I didn’t think it was possible.”
“What?” he asks, confused.
“Possible to love you even more than I do right now.”
“Move!” Someone shouts, making Cole jump. Savannah seems unfazed by the man yelling. Her lips are moving, but he can’t hear her.
“Savannah?” he asks, nearly panicked. “What’s going on?”
“Up!” the voice says again.
One minute he’s with her, the next he’s back in his room…
Men are shouting outside his door. He wipes the bead of sweat from his neck. A dream, a memory, a fantasy, whatever you want to call it, it’s his and only his. They can’t take that from him.
A voice makes his skin crawl as he turns and rests his back on the wall. Wincing from the cold, he slips back into another memory.
Everything changes once the video is made.
He is dragged into the room where a camera is pointing at a Mexican flag on the wall. He is positioned on his knees while the guy with the longhorn belt buckle, the one they call Raul, orders one of the men to leave. Moments later the man returns with a white guy in a Hawaiian print shirt and khakis. He drops him on the floor and nods at Raul. The guy looks either half dead or drugged.
Cole is trying to catch up when he sees Raul reaching for a machete. He can feel the blood drain from his face and swallows hard. A man comes over and inspects his neck, then does the same to the guy on the floor.
“Same,” the man says to Raul.
Than it hits Cole this is all being filmed, but why? He sees the red light go on, and they instruct Cole to stare into the camera. They turn on a bright light and aim it at him. He watches as Raul stands to his side and starts a speech. The camera travels down, and he sees the little red light go off. Someone grabs Cole and pulls him aside, shoving a pistol in his face. He watches in horror as they rip off the other man’s shirt and hold him up.
“Not a word,” the man warns, shaking the pistol at Cole.
The camera travels up Raul’s waist then moves over to the man’s neck, not showing any of his face. A moment later his throat is sliced open. Blood flies everywhere, including on Cole’s arms and chest. The man turns and flops to the ground. The realization hits that this video is going to be seen by his family, but before he can even form another thought he’s being dragged back into the closet and again handcuffed to the pipe.
He had heard The American come back, raging mad after hearing Raul made the video and sent it off without his knowledge. Clearly The American and Luka Donavan had nothing to do with the tape. In the days that followed, Cole had been driving himself crazy imagining all sorts of horrific scenarios of his family seeing what they thought was his beheading. He feels sick thinking of Savannah and her reaction to such a thing, let alone his parents.
Jerking awake after another terrible nightmare, Cole desperately runs his hands along the pipe to the ground and picks up the jug of water they threw at him the night before. He has been carefully sipping it, making sure he doesn’t get sick by drinking it too fast. He winces as he moves, feeling the large open gash on his stomach. He knows it’s probably getting infected in his filthy living conditions. Thankfully, they have been taking him outside to relieve himself. One time they didn’t secure the blindfold properly, and Cole got a good look at his surroundings. He’s been out enough times now to know what direction to head when he finally makes his move.
The door opens and The American steps inside the room, turning on the overhead light. He chucks a protein bar at Cole, and as he fumbles with numb fingers to pick it up, he sees it’s one from the vest he was wearing the night they raided the house. Cole’s stomach sinks as he realizes they went through his gear.
“So,” The American says, smiling. “I’m gathering it just clicked for you that we found this,” he holds up the picture, “tucked in the lining of your vest. Isn’t there some rule that you’re not supposed to carry anything that can lead us to your loved ones?” Cole jaw tightens as he glances at the picture of Savannah. “So Luka was right,” he nods, “you’re in love with the girl too.” He smirks, glancing at the photo as his thumb brushes over her face. “What an interesting turn of events.” He checks his watch then stands, studying Cole for a moment, then turns off the light and leaves.
“Up!” a man yells at Cole, thinking he’s asleep. In fact, he was listening to the background sounds to see if other men are around. All is quiet.
The man kicks him in the leg. “I said up!” Cole’s eyes slowly open.
The guy leans over and fumbles with the key to unlock the cuffs. His eyes are dilated and he looks strung out on something. Cole waits patiently while the man releases him. He needs to see if anyone is in the house. The man is so out of it he forgets to blindfold him, and Cole watches where he puts the cuff key after he links his other wrist. “Out.” The man nudges him between his shoulder blades with his rifle.
He keeps his head down but notices two guys just as high nearly passed out on the couch, along with a tray lined with cocaine in front of them. One man looks over at them and grunts something about how it isn’t the time to let the
out yet, but the man just urges Cole to keep moving. Cole peeks at the time on the wall and learns it’s just past midnight. Lots of darkness left to use to his advantage.
“Tree.” The guy points to the nearest tree. “Hurry.”
Cole nods then glances over the man’s shoulder like he sees something. The guard turns quickly, and Cole wraps his arms around the man’s neck and holds on tightly. Cole hooks his leg around the man’s; holding him closer to his body he flexes with all his might finally feeling the pop he is waiting for. The guard goes limp and falls to the ground, slipping from his grasp. Cole quickly plucks the key from the guard’s pocket, frees himself from the cuffs and tosses them into the shadows. He snags the gun and rolls the man into the brush, all the while watching the door for the two other men. They don’t show. Just as he pushes off the man’s body, he feels something square in his pocket. He pulls out a phone.
With the gun flung over his shoulder and the phone secure in his pocket, Cole runs into the thin wooded area and heads north toward the mountain where he can find high ground and good cover. He runs and runs and runs, letting the stars guide him. Breathing is everything; you need to control your breathing to keep your heart rate steady so you can run longer. Luckily for Cole, he has long legs which allow him to sprint through the brush. After about forty minutes of flat-out running, he slows, feeling pain deep inside his gut. He stops and holds onto a tree. His hands reach down and feel blood soaking the top of his pants.
Mind over matter.
What he needs is some clean water and a piece of clothing to wrap his midsection.
Something catches his attention off to his left, and he drops to the ground, swinging his gun in front of him and scanning the tree trunks. It’s dark, and the woods are thick in some areas, but Cole can spot a panther stalking its prey before it can spot him.
A familiar whistle breaks through the silent night. It takes Cole a few moments to recognize the tone. He squints when he hears it again.
“Raven One,” a male voice calls out in perfect English, “I’m a scout for Eagle Eye One.”
Holy shit, he’s a fucking scout for Frank!
“Name?” Cole calls out, still keeping his gun raised.
“Staff Sergeant Mills, Colonel.”
“Show yourself.” There’s a rustling sound, then a man dressed in dark clothes appears, holding his hands up. Cole grips the gun tightly but lowers it as soon as he sees the man lift his shirt, showing a U.S. Army tattoo confirming which unit he’s in. He’s definitely part of Frank’s team. “You alone, Mills?” Cole asks, allowing himself to sag against the tree.
“No, sir. Sergeant Hahn is on high ground while I came down here to find you.”
“You were watching the house?”
“Yes, sir.” Mills nods and comes closer as he checks the time.
“You expecting someone?”
“Yes, sir. Blackstone is on their way.”
“Wait,” Cole says, shifting his weight. “Blackstone is on their way here?” Mills nods. “When?”
“Should be arriving in twenty.”
Well, fuck me sideways.
“Let me see your radio, Mills.” Mills hands it to him, saying they’re on channel six. Cole holds it to his mouth and clicks the button. “Blackstone One to Blackstone Two; do you copy?” Seven long seconds go by before he hears him.
“Blackstone Two to Blackstone One; your voice never sounded so sweet, brother.” Cole grins at Mark’s comment. “Meet at Eagle Eye Three's lookout point.”
“Copy that, Blackstone Two, meeting at Eagle Eye Three’s lookout point.” He hands his radio to Mills and nods toward the trees. “Lead the way.”
“Yes, sir.” Mills hesitates then reaches into his pants pocket, handing Cole a small pill in a plastic wrap. Cole shakes his head, not needing anything to cloud his judgment until he’s back on U.S. soil. They head toward the mountains until halfway up Cole pulls Mills to the ground. A spotlight swipes the edge of the mountain; Cole spots it coming from a Land Rover about two miles from them. He signals for Mills to hand him his radio and clicks the button several times until he hears clicking back. He slips the radio in his pocket and cautions Mills to stay low but keep moving. They reach the top just as he hears the chopper blades off in the distance and his radio clicking Morse code at him. It’s Mark wondering if they still have company. He clicks back confirming they’re several hundred yards behind them and to be prepared.