FRIDAY, JUNE 21ST - AMERICAN SAMOA (LATE AFTERNOON)
"Sir, we have another urgent case."
Ponch stifled a sigh as he looked up from where he stood over the badly injured Samoan woman and ran his hand over his tired face. It hadn't taken long for everyone to be overwhelmed by the critical nature of the situation. It was a violent natural disaster that left too many people dead, injured, separated from those they loved and that was just the beginning. The clean up would take months and the threat of disease and illness was already rearing its head. Two Red Cross volunteers were hustling through the doors of the makeshift emergency aide tent with yet another occupied stretcher. The body was limp and a mud-stained, blood-smeared hand hung off the side. Based upon what remained of his clothing, it looked to be a man and one shoe was missing from his now bare left foot.
"Find a spot for him, a nurse for triage and I'll be right there." He needed to stabilize the woman before he could move to the next patient. He, as with every member of the large medical contingent, was overwhelmed. Within minutes of arriving, he and his team had joined the ranks of all those stretched very thin caring for every type of trauma imaginable.
The woman he was with now had a badly broken leg and a severe concussion. She was older and heavy-set which worsened her prospects to recover. Her breathing stubbornly remained erratic from shock and pain; he was quite worried about that bad combination along with her age and weight. Focusing once again on her immediate needs, Ponch leaned down to ensure her airway was unobstructed before fastening an oxygen mask over her nose and mouth. He finished by running an IV line himself for fluids and pain medication.
Pausing a moment, Ponch smoothed her lank hair back from her face. There was no way she could hear him, but he offered her some kind words regardless. "You are going to hang in there for us, aren't you? No checking out on my watch ... we plan to find your family and get you home."
The tent was full to capacity with injured from the cyclone-ravaged island and they only had a small window of time as the eye of a sudden tropical storm lulled them into a false sense of security. The sun was currently shining outside however the wind was already increasing along with splotches of darker ominous clouds.
He nearly growled in frustration when two other volunteers jogged past him carrying a child between them. The little boy was about eight years old and crying sadly for his mother who was nowhere in sight. His right arm was strapped to his chest and he could only assume one of the little tyke's bones was broken.
"Doctor Ramirez!" One of the first workers was waving for him frantically and pointing towards the man that had just been brought in on the stretcher. The second was actively doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
"He's having trouble breathing! Everyone's busy! What do we do?"
Reacting quickly, Ponch gathered emergency supplies on the run as he assumed what he might need to stabilize the injured man. Handing the aide a bag-valve mask, he had him rhythmically begin pushing oxygen as he used his stethoscope to manually confirm a somewhat rapid but weak pulse. A quick glance showed Ponch the man had a head injury but getting him to maintain a steady breath was the first course of action.
"Continue administering those breaths, please. Nice and steady," Ponch encouraged the aide as he looked for evidence of chest and lung injuries. He kept his stethoscope primed on the man's chest and then large fingers anchored to the grimy wrist. "He has a pulse ... heartbeat ... let's get him breathing better on his own."
After a few minutes, his newest patient leveled out and Ponch had the aide replace the BVM with a portable oxygen mask before turning to give someone else his next requests for more help. With approval, he sensed that the first volunteer was gently using a bottle of sterilized water to wash out the head wound. People were undeniably busy, but working well together.
"Okay, good. He's breathing, though his heartbeat is more erratic than I'd prefer. Get me one of my nurses. STAT." He made the demand as he cut away what was left of the man's shirt to gently palpitate his sternum, ribs and abdomen. Now though, the doctor's eyes were closed in concentration as his skilled fingers examined every inch of the man's bruised upper body. He cataloged the one broken rib and its potential for having damaged at least one lung. He sighed briefly in relief when the abdomen seemed to be clear for that at least meant no internal bleeding.
Opening his eyes, Ponch used a towel to wipe away some of the mud and was shocked to see more purpling bruises that resembled those sustained in a fight. The man also seemed to be caucasian based upon his coloring and he mentally hesitated. One of the man's wrists was broken and again as if in a brawl, his knuckles were equally bloody, bruised and badly swollen. Thumbing the man's wrists over gently, Ponch measured what seemed to be ligature marks from restraints. Further up the man's ravaged arms were signs of recent injection sites.
"Alright then." The doctor nearly made a face in disgust. The man was obviously a homeless junkie and had likely been in a bar fight prior to the storm hitting the island. He did have some trauma from the weather event but drugs were probably still in his system and with his debilitated state, now gravely limiting his ability to breathe properly. A basic pinch test proved the significant level of dehydration which was also another dismal negative for the ill and injured patient. The sunken ribcage indicated a clear lack of food for a number of days.
"Money for drugs, but never for food. It's no wonder you stopped breathing in your condition." Ponch was almost annoyed by his findings as he continued his evaluation. The man was in bad shape but the ligature marks were most disturbing. When he moved down to the lower extremities to examine his legs for broken bones and then the bare foot for lacerations, he hesitated again. The one bare ankle also hosted a perfectly round ring of bruises. Cutting through the pant's leg, a look at the other ankle revealed the same bruising and things suddenly didn't add up for the big doctor.
"This is strange though," he muttered to himself as he looked at those injuries that weren't necessarily storm related. The physical abuse was startling and he was concerned about how his initial examination was leading now in an entirely different direction.
It was then he noticed the tightly fisted hand and the bit of gold that peeked out. It took some doing to forcibly pry the object from the injured man's fingers. Ponch was more than shocked by what he saw after he wiped the front clean of water and mud.
"Oh no. It can't be ... not here." Ponch rocked on his feet in shock as he held the badge in front of his face and saw the credentials. Stunned to his core, the big doctor fisted it tightly in his own hand before roughly pushing the aide out of his way. When he leaned forward and saw the damaged features through the mud and filth, he tucked Danny's badge deeply into his own hospital coat pocket.
None of it made sense and yet ... here he was; this man most definitely was not a junkie, nor had he been in some back-street bar fight. He'd been abducted, beaten, drugged and by some miracle had escaped his kidnappers.
"Danny?" Ponch's fingers dug for the carotid artery. The detective was nearly unrecognizable under the thick layer of rain-slicked, muddy filth. His clothes were ruined and falling off his body as if he'd run through deep brush, briars and jungle. Based on his limited knowledge, the doctor didn't doubt that was exactly what he'd done during the height of the storm.
Carefully using the towel again, Ponch was shocked to find more bruises littering Danny's face and chin. He'd been beaten methodically around the chest, head and face. The doctor immediately thumbed his eyes open before checking for cranial and neck injuries with gentle fingers. The older and uncared for head wound ran across his scalp where it had once bled heavily to leave his hair crusty and clumped. Another hard knot graced the back of his head and seemed to be more recent.
"Come on. Danny?" Bending down to listen, he waited with baited breath to hear him again breathing on his own and then triple checked his weak pulse and respiration. "Keep breathing for me. Don't stop now."
Before the storm had ravaged the islands, Detective Danny Williams had been abducted at gunpoint seven days prior. He knew that Danny's Five-0 team had been searching for him desperately every minute of every one of those days. The doctor only had that most rudimentary knowledge about the abduction - he only knew that it had happened and not the particulars. But now the Detective had shown up most unexpectedly on a different island and in very rough condition.
Ponch came eye to eye with the aide he had so roughly pushed aside. The young man was now standing uncertainly with muddied gauze in hand as he watched the doctor's odd reactions. It was obvious that he thought he'd done something wrong. Waving off the aide's injured expression, Ponch began peppering him with questions.
"Where did you find this man? Was he alone? Did anyone come in with him? Has anyone asked for him in particular?"
"Ah, no. We found him trying to make it to the encampment from the north. He collapsed before we could get to him." The aide was nervous but coping under the doctor's judgmental eye. "He was alone. Completely alone and we brought him right in, doctor."
Ramirez stared at the aide deeply before mulling over the lack of information. It was both good and bad. Danny had gotten away but there was no insight into the kidnappers and how hot on his trail they might be.
"Get me a sat phone and get me my wife. Now." At that point, Ponch only wanted his wife Ellen to assist in treating the badly injured detective. He wanted the sat phone to contact Steve to at least inform him that their friend had been found in the most unlikely of places. He also wanted to draw blood to test the detective's system for whatever drugs had been pushed into him, but for that, he had no tools.
He also knew that as the wind began to whip up again and the tent walls billowed, there would be no leaving the island just yet. It had stormed for most of the night and early morning and they were only now in a very temporary lull. The fake beauty of the eye was dwindling quickly and round two was set to begin.
In an anger based upon a deep seated worry that he'd lose his too short transmission window, Ponch took a step back from where Danny lay to bellow loudly for the satellite phone. The Red Cross aide flinched but got moving. Most were quite unused to his habits and acerbic behavior. They jumped and then avoided his general vicinity while one of his staff scurried away to find Ellen Ramirez as he demanded.
"Now, damn it! I want that phone now!" The satellite phone was suddenly thrust into his searching hands just as Ellen Ramirez, jogged into the tent.
"Alphonse? What's wrong?" Without a word, he pointed meaningfully towards Danny as he began to hurriedly make his call to Five-0 headquarters. The connection was full of static but after a delay, he could clearly hear Steve.
"Oh my god! What's he doing here?" The doctor's voice was almost drowned out by his wife's stunned exclamation nearly in his ear as she took over the desperate triage. His practiced eye noticed her diligent recheck of Danny's too low vital signs and immediate attention to the head wound which she took over from the helpful aide to gently clean.
"Commander. Steve." With Ellen now there, Ponch left the tent for a more private spot outside. He could hear the annoyed stress in Steve's voice as the delayed connection at first limited their conversation.
"McGarrett. Hello? Who is this?"
His own preamble then was short and curt as he covertly watched to see who might be listening in. "Steve, it's Ponch. I don't have much time because of this damned storm. You need to know that I have Danny."
"What?" The stunned word was loud and full of a dark stress. "Ponch, is this for real?"
"Very." There was an emotional choked noise and in the background, the doctor could hear the sounds of faint words and a great deal of activity. Steve's voice changed again and Ponch could tell he'd been put on speaker so the rest of the team could listen.
"Ponch, where are you? Are you at TAMC? We'll be right over!"
The doctor cut off the anxious man though with a sharp whispered hiss. "No, no, no! Not TAMC ... we're on a mercy mission and we have him here; Danny was just brought in on a stretcher with some of the other local injured."
"I don't understand." The frustration and impatience were skyrocketing as Steve nearly shouted into his office phone. The delay in the satellite transmission was unnerving and the static only added to it. "What? Did you say locals? Where are you? What do you mean that you have Danny?"
"I'm on American Samoa volunteering with medical and international aid organizations for cyclone victims and another tropical storm is coming through. Listen to me, Steve. He's in bad shape but we have him. We're closest to Pago Pago."
"Ponch. Please." The high level of distress was evident in Steve's voice as he tried to absorb all that he was being told. American Samoa was nearly five or six hours away by direct flight and he'd no idea how Danny's abductors had moved him that far. The cruel why was evident though because no matter what they had done, they never would have located the Detective.
"Samoa? How .. why .. how bad is he? Was anyone with him? Can he talk .. can we talk to him?"
They had been looking on the wrong island; they hadn't even considered that he'd been moved so far from home. Ponch had no way of knowing that the subtle clues and messages sent to the team had all been lies to lead the team on a wild goose chase. The big doctor ran his fingers through hair that was getting wet again as the first of the rain began to fall. He chose his words to communicate both Danny's urgent condition as well as the fact that he would do his best to keep him personally cared for.
"No, he's unconscious and it's not good. Steve. We're working on getting him stabilized now and I'll personally have him on the first emergency transport out as soon as the weather breaks."
Thunder cracked loudly over head and the delayed connection immediately worsened. Watching his words in case the wrong ears were managing to eavesdrop, Ponch was forced to virtually yell into the sat phone with the device wedged firmly into his ear.
"He came in alone and I understand the potential threat. We're going to be stuck here until this tropical depression passes over and our military can come back in for retrieval."
Before he lost service, the doctor heard Steve shouting in kind for him to be careful and to watch his own back. There was a faint promise that he would get there too if the doctor couldn't act first.
Ponch tossed the phone to a volunteer as he returned to Ellen with worried eyes before quickly surveying every single person in the emergency medical tent. He knew exactly what Steve meant about being careful and his senses now trilled ominously. Whoever had taken Danny and dropped him in Samoa would likely still be on the islands. No one was coming or going without proper authorization after the damage caused by the cyclone. It was made worse now as a second tropical storm entered the picture in full progress.
Based on the little he knew, besides Danny now, they were now all potentially in danger. Because of that, the doctor made a hasty decisive move.
Across from Ellen, he began packing supplies studiously into a large medical bag while whispering in her ear. "Our tent. We're going to need to keep him out of prying eyes and harms way."
He looked at her as if begging her forgiveness or understanding and she frowned in confusion. "What?" She whispered at his odd expression. "What are you thinking?" He was a smart man and not willing to take chances but she was surprised by his next orders.
"Excuse me? Call it? But .. Alphonse?" Ellen whispered back with a shocked look from her husband's face and then down to Danny. He'd already hidden the small oxygen canister under the sheet near Danny's arm. So now, regardless of the oxygen mask which remained in place, her heart caught in her throat as he almost too calmly flipped the sheet up over Danny's face as if he'd died.
The two Red Cross workers were distracted with new arrivals and he raised his voice sternly. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that one clearly heard his orders and though he was sure not a single volunteer in that tent would be involved with any wrong doing, he was inordinately satisfied that his ploy was working. The story he was now creating needed to be seamless. Until Danny made it off the island or his team at least made it in to protect his life, Danny Williams needed to disappear again.
"Ellen, we tried but he crashed and we've lost this patient. Call it, please."
Digging her fingers painfully into the side of the stretcher, she verbally noted the time of death with tears barely hidden in her eyes although Danny continued to breathe shallowly under the light fabric. She jolted reactively when thunder boomed and a portion of the tent came loose from a strong wind gust.
"Take the other side please." With that distraction in full swing as personnel ran to make repairs, Ponch grabbed the front of the stretcher and motioned for her to take the bottom.
A separate tent housed the deceased and he demanded that she help him now. "We need the room for other injured. Help me to the morgue before the storm gets any worse."
"Absolutely," Ellen murmured as she took her place. Once outside the primary medical tent, moving was relatively easy as staff and volunteers made room for the big doctor and his wife. Neither stopped nor questioned, they had full access to do whatever they wished.
Hesitating briefly to ensure no one was looking their way, he and Ellen dodged to the right to duck between two tents and then directly into their own small temporary living quarters. They settled Danny towards the rear and Ponch whipped the light sheet off Danny's face to reposition the oxygen mask and ensure the tank was on full.
"It's obvious that he escaped which means that he is still in danger. You're going to stay with him and stabilize his vital signs. His left wrist is broken, as is a rib on his left side. He's also badly dehydrated and that head wound needs attention."
Used to taking his orders, Ellen simply nodded and made the urgent mental notes which also allowed her to focus and stay at her best. Ponch was working quickly as he positioned the stretcher where he wanted it and then dug out his own military weapon from his travel pack along with extra clips.
"Use this if you need to. If you don't know the person - don't trust the person." His orders were simple and Ellen was instantly on her game now that her frazzled nerves were calming.
"Stay put, Ellen. Tell no one that he's here with us. As of now, you don't feel well and are resting." As one of the primary high-level physician volunteers, Ponch needed to be visible for the foreseeable future and he sighed at his newly developing dual role. However and for the first time since arriving on American Samoa, Ponch considered the latest tropical depression a true gift.
"Keep him warm and quiet. I'll be back as soon as I can with more supplies." While the back-end of the new storm intensified outside the canvas walls of their tent, he smiled reassuringly at his wife before gently kissing her cheek.
"Never a dull moment, eh?"