FRIDAY, JUNE 21ST - AMERICAN SAMOA (LATE NIGHT)
Danny saw the terrible hiking boots first as Ellen was shoved back into the tent and Boots simply appeared. He hadn't waited long for the big doctor to trot after the volunteer. He was never one to hesitate when he had an opportunity. Sneaking up on the woman and getting into the tent had been remarkably easy and now he nearly laughed at his win.
He had the woman so tightly by the throat, she was already choking as she pulled hard against his forearm. He watched in glee as Danny yanked off the oxygen mask while struggling up to his right elbow in order to gain leverage, but was unable to use his left hand. He was forced to flounder for a moment before only achieving a half-seated position.
"Let her go!" Danny was stunned by the sudden arrival. He was weak and his rib creaked and protested unhappily as he bit back the moan. He wanted the gun that had been left on the cot and he desperately wanted to put an end to Boots personally as Ellen's face reddened and she began to fight for air. But even if things hadn't spiraled out of control so very quickly, the weapon was too far away and he was badly hampered by his broken wrist.
"So, Detective ... we meet again. I love when I'm right." The hoarse voice was new, but Boot's face was covered with his standard black hood to obscure his features. It was soaked by the rain, but still adequately doing it's job as he repositioned the gun to Ellen's head. Her fingers were still scrabbling against his arm but she wasn't getting anywhere as she gurgled and began to sag.
"Stop!" Danny tried again to get to his feet as Ellen's eyes began to close and her knees buckled. "Let her go. You're killing her!" With a look of disgust, Madison switched his hold to Ellen's hair leaving her to cough and choke in lungfuls of air.
"Nice little setup you have here," he drawled dangerously while gauging his very agitated captive's health as he twisted a fistful of Ellen's hair painfully. Her hands flew back to her head as a new pain overwhelmed her entirely.
Danny's hands were shaking as he once again faced the criminal. Ellen's whimper of pain caused a new anger to flare though. "Let her go. You only need me."
"I think not." The accompanying shrug reeked of an over-confident and pleased smugness. Boots was still in full control as he kept the gun trained on Ellen's head.
"Scream or call out to draw attention in any way and you both die." Keeping his hand nested in her hair, he pushed Ellen to her knees while gesturing to the two IV's which seemed to be Danny's only tether.
"Take both of those out and help him up. We're leaving."
"He can't walk. He's badly injured ... he ..." Ellen tried to interrupt the man but the yank on her hair brought even more pained tears to her eyes.
"Take them out, or I'll do it myself and it won't be pretty." Twisting her hair even harder, she cried out as her hands went back to her head automatically. She thought he'd tear wads out of her scalp in seconds as a pained tear rolled down her cheek.
"Back off," Danny growled in anger as he managed to get into a slouched seated position. He was panting from the effort though and wholly unable to help. "She's not any part of this."
"You know me better than that Danny-boy." When a bullet entered the chamber of the gun, her fingers flew to remove the intravenous lines from each of Danny's arms. Her face contorted in pain again as Frank tightened his hold in her hair to encourage her haste.
"You'll help him. Or, you both die. He falls ... or you try to run ... and you both die. Get the picture?"
"I'll manage," Danny flatly stated as he glared at the hooded man. He covertly glanced to his left and to the gun which lay so temptingly close on her cot.
"I need supplies. Flashlights." Ellen was wiping tears away from her eyes as she followed Danny's quick look. Her head was on fire and she knew that a deep red mark would ring her throat, too based on the soreness already setting in. Through a tight cough, she boldly pointed to her knapsack.
"Medical supplies ... in that bag. I need to pack a few more things."
"Okay." Frank hesitated before totally releasing her hair. He still kept the gun trained directly into the back of her head. His own injury pulled uncomfortably on his ribs and he might need doctoring too at some point.
"Give me the damned flashlight though." Carefully, Ellen handed Frank the light which he shoved into the front of his pants.
"Get what you need together. I want him alive ... you're a nurse ... at least for now I can live with that ... show me the bag."
Blocking his view of her gun, Ellen knelt and emptied the bag in front of Frank. She grabbed a large handful of two-inch by two inch sized gauze bandages and brandished them in his face.
"Bandages, fluids, pain medication, antibiotics ... basic medical gear." Just behind her back, she pointed to the water bottles which were still achingly close to her sleeping bag ... and the gun. Her body was low enough to block the cot and the tent was still dimly illuminated. She prayed that Madison wouldn't see the weapon lying behind her.
"We need to bring drinking water too. When the weather clears, the humidity will be very bad."
Frank accepted the suggestion and Ellen hastily grabbed her jacket and then shoved the large wad of gauze into her outer pocket as she turned to gather an armful of water bottles. The fast move allowed her to scoop the gun closer to a spare blanket. She stared at him as she made a show of packing each bottle into the backpack.
"I'd like at least one blanket. Please." When he didn't argue, her weapon was gathered into the blanket and shoved on top before she zipped her supplies closed. Her throat tightened again as she waited to be caught; but nothing happened. He hadn't seen it and didn't seem to suspect anything but she was breathing raggedly at the sheer boldness of her move.
"He honestly ... he can't walk." It was then she realized Danny only wore socks on his feet and she paused to try one final time for a reprieve which she knew wouldn't be granted. His injured right foot would never hold his weight for any prolonged period of time. Leaning forward, she took one of her husband's spare hooded windbreakers and readied it for Danny, but still argued.
Danny saw the irritation escalating in Boot's posture and paled at the subtle very dangerous change. "Ellen. That's enough."
"He has no shoes or boots! You can't expect him to manage .. not in his condition!" She wrongly ignored Danny's warning. Frank's patience was now sorely worn thin and he only waggled his gun threateningly at them both.
"Too bad. It's better than nothing ... now get him up and get him moving." His mood was foul and Danny recognized the pending storm; Madison's next words proved how quickly the tides could turn.
"Or, you may be too much trouble already." The gun was purposefully pressed into Ellen's temple making her gasp and shake from the shock of what he might now do. She realized what Danny already knew as he stared blindly at the man's covered face.
"Ellen." Danny switched to her tear-filled eyes as he took her hand and squeezed it hard enough for the bones to rub. He was cold and trembling, but working to defuse the situation as best as he could. "Help me up."
She was frozen in place though as the gun remained right up against her scalp. The long moment of silence that followed was stifling as Madison didn't move or speak. When the weapon did finally move back a fraction and he barked out a short laugh, Ellen sucked in a huge frightened breath of air.
"Get him up." She shut her mouth and didn't wait then as she fairly jumped to follow his order.
Danny couldn't hide his pained groan as Ellen heaved him upwards. The resurgence of pain in his head and weakened rib was immediate and he realized how much better the concept of laying down suddenly was. Needing help, he kept an eye on Boots as Ellen helped to feed his arms through the large windbreaker. Her fingers were shaking as she zipped it up with a worried murmur of apology for Danny's sake.
"I'll manage," he repeated for a second time as he watched Madison's hooded shape. The criminal would do just about anything with no regard and Danny vowed to stay on his feet in order to avoid risking more of Ellen's tenuous safety. But he was already leaning heavily on her when Madison pushed them outside. In seconds, Danny found himself stumbling from the refuge of the tent and directly into mind-numbing cold rain and harsh wind. Water and mud soaked through the socks and he nearly fell as a strong wind-gust rattled and bent the trees.
"This is insanity." Danny panted and wiped water from his face when he realized the true fury of the storm. His vision dimmed dangerously as his weakened body objected to being upright and he felt Ellen take more of his weight. As she had warned, he wouldn't be able to make it very far.
"You're insane." His gasped words were cut short when he heard Ellen's pained wheeze as Frank fisted her hair again and shoved her forward roughly.
"Shut up and move. Or she dies ... you both die. Here and now." Blinking back the pain and sinking deeply into the cold mud, Danny had no choice but to allow that ferocious motion to propel him forward towards the depths of the jungle.
Moments later, they were lost in its dark recesses.
SATURDAY, JUNE 22ND - AMERICAN SAMOA (EARLY MORNING HOURS)
The three had been forced to stop early on due to the violence of the storm and Danny's now aggravated injuries. Without proper footwear, he was soon stumbling even more as heavy undergrowth tore at his soles despite the sinking mud. Twigs, rocks and hidden roots soon bruised and battered his feet with his right foot nearly impossible to use to support any of his weight. Barely forty-five minutes in, Frank had grudgingly pushed them into a partially standing two-room house of sorts. Half thatched hut and half shed, it was near the foot of the main trail up into the heavier jungle.
Staring into the storm, Madison paced angrily before motioning that they'd stay awhile. Ellen sighed in total relief as she eased Danny down and propped him against a wall as he wheezed around pain and tried to catch his breath. Ellen removed the windbreaker and took out the spare blanket to drape it over Danny's quaking body. Minutes later he'd fallen into a feverish doze on the nurse's lap not realizing that his upper body hid the gun tucked into her own jacket pocket.
"He's not going any further." Ellen stared back down Frank's warning and hard eyes. The man had long ago abandoned his black hood after successfully making it into and the out of the encampment. He was tanned and dark with the hardest, coldest expression she had ever seen. Ellen dug in though and tried to vainly ask for reason as she confirmed Danny's much too rapid pulse.
"He can't do it. You're going to wind up killing him." Like them both, Danny's clothes were soaked but she could almost feel the heat rising degree by degree. The physical activity and exposure to the elements had weakened him almost immediately.
"He really can't," she whispered under her breath. She knew that she was taking a terrible chance antagonizing the man again. However, without her now, he'd not move Danny at all. Madison at least needed her to be Danny's human crutch.
The criminal's new silence suddenly frightened her more than anything he had done as she rubbed Danny's shoulder. He only needed Danny alive for a short while longer; long enough to prove that he'd done his job for his employer. After that, they'd both be disposed of .. Ellen realized that only the 'when' mattered to Frank because it also defined his pay-out. Mustering her flagging bravery, she eyed him again and offered her challenge which he replied to since it fed his ego.
"This obviously isn't going to go on forever. How long does he have?" Frank smiled at her clever mind and leaned forward with his hands eagerly spread out on his knees as fingers drummed out a happy mindless tune.
"Tuesday. Maybe Wednesday afternoon," he leered at her and pointed to her medical bag. "He's your job until then. His life is in your hands for the next few days, lady. Both of your lives are now joined at the hip and I suggest you make these days count."
The tears came unbidden and quite against her attempts at remaining stoic. Based on Madison's expression, only she knew that they weren't for herself. Saturday morning was about to dawn and she could sense the storm dwindling. Far on the horizon, the sun would soon be rising up to fight the dark clouds. Even Tuesday was a frightening prospect though as Ellen smoothed back the wet hair from Danny's wan face. In the current predicament, she didn't think she could keep him alive that long.
Angrily, Ellen pulled her medical pack closer and ignored the gun that appeared suddenly under her very nose. "What do you think you're doing?"
"If you want me to make this count, then you will leave me the hell alone!" Her raised voice caused Danny to moan and she steadied her free hand on his shoulder.
"He needs morphine and fluids. The bandage on his head wound is ruined and I can't do a thing for his feet." Making sure that her gun stayed hidden, she gently extricated herself from Danny's upper body to lay him flat.
She completely turned on Madison when she saw Danny's swollen fingers as a result of his broken wrist. They were worse too and she worried that he'd accidentally banged or jostled the bones during their forced march. "Damn you. I will take care of him the only way I know how, or why else did you bring me along?"
Ellen was on her knees barely four feet from the visibly irate man but she was hesitant to go for her own weapon. They were each shaking with an emotional tension and anything could easily go wrong because she simply wouldn't be fast enough. When he heaved in a warning breath and sat back, his gun was less than a foot from her head but she took the general action to be one of permission. She went back to her business of removing antiseptic wipes, bandages and morphine from her bag. After studiously cleaning Danny's right arm, she injected a healthy dose of the pain medication into his blood stream and then toyed with the concept of an IV or subcutaneous fluids. But there was no way either would work in the current unsanitary conditions. She removed the soiled bandages from his head and redressed the wound before trying at least something with his right foot by wrapping what seemed like yards of gauze around the outside of the sock itself.
Bending down, she opened a bottle of water and elevated Danny's head. With much cajoling and a careful hand, Ellen managed to make him swallow at least half the bottle before allowing him to rest. He was only half aware of what was happening around him at that point. With disgust in her eyes, she saw that Frank had also helped himself to not one, but two full bottles of water while she remained focused on Danny.
"Help yourself," she muttered with a hateful look.
"I do believe I just did," came the equally sarcastic reply. They both paused in their tirade though as a tiny sliver of sunlight dared to split the distant horizon. Ellen's heart pounded when Frank smiled happily.
"Start waking him. Get him ready ... we're leaving soon," he laughed heartily as he offered a dire reminder. "Just remember, the same rules apply. He falls ... or you try to run ... and you both die."