The Soul That Perishes
Steve McGarrett toured the small hotel room one more time to be sure he'd collected all his personal items. It did not take long. By American standards, the small Colombian hotel room, only moderately lit, without air-conditioning or effective screens would have been sub-standard. He had traveled abroad often and the Spartan accommodations had not disturbed him in the least. The small conference had been better than he had anticipated; they had been well received, the audience responsive although an interpreter had been necessary most of the time, which had slowed communications. He carefully latched his bag closed, locked it and pocketed the key. Picking up his suitcase, he walked down the one flight of steps to the lobby.
The clerk looked up at him from where his desk sat nested amongst small tropical palms. "Has your stay been pleasant?"
The cockatiel on its nearby perch gave a single squawk.
"Yes, thank you," Steve commented cordially, glancing around.
"Mr. Williams is outside," the clerk informed him, accurately analyzing his search.
He gave a nod. "Thank you." Bag in hand, he walked out into the hot South American afternoon and immediately spotted Dan Williams seated beneath the shade near the fountain. "Ready, Danno?"
"Taxi is on its way - maybe," he replied. Unlike Steve who wore a suit even in the heat, Williams was clad in white denims and a bright yellow and blue flowered aloha shirt.
Steve sat down near him. "It will be good to get home."
Williams did not reply. Yes, home and my resignation. That offer in Maui looks better all the time. No big city, no stress - no McGarrett to try to please. Maybe I won't even have to report to the office. He'll just find the letter on his desk if the mailman did his job.
Steve gave a small forced grin. He'd selected Williams are his companion hoping to foster a relationship of sorts. And he knew Williams was familiar with South America which was plus and made the believable excuse. He liked the young officer, but Williams was rarely open with him. Steve recalled his invitation.
Looking back on the exchange, Steve pondered if he should have chosen a more friendly route. Aside from the tequila-drinking contest with two Mexican officers on the first night, Williams had been tense and distant. And if Steve had hoped to draw out the more casual side of the junior officer, this trip was a failure.
The cab pulled up, the driver, wearing a white cap and shirt with a three-day beard and cigar jumped from the driver's side. "Americanos?" he called towards Steve. "Airport? Huh?"
"Guess that's our ride," Danny remarked and rose.
Steve glared at the driver, hoping the man would realize the indiscretion and extinguish the smoke. The driver ignored him. They dropped their bags into the trunk and got into the back seat.
The driver restarted the engine - it took two tries, then he lurched the vehicle into first gear with a bone-jarring grind and floored the gas. The vehicle spun out the hotel drive, throwing dirt into the air. He grinned through his cigar. "Debemos recoger uno más persona."
Steve glanced at Danny for translation. Danny merely shrugged.
The car shot through the dirt streets of Bogata, swerving and sliding around dogs, chickens, children and burros. It slid to a halt before another hotel and the driver jumped out.
"We must be picking up another passenger," Steve guessed.
Danny seemed disinterested. "He'll probably charge us double for the pleasure of the experience."
The driver returned carrying large suitcase of a well-built young woman. He opened the back door for the girl who bent low, exposing most of her cleavage.
"Room for one?" she asked in accented English.
Steve moved over on the seat for her, mildly irritated that his long legs were now drawn up under his chin on the hump of the floor of the back seat. He glanced at Danny and detected the look of amusement.
The driver re-started the car again and the acrid fumes of the cigar rapidly mixed with the powerful perfume of the new passenger, nearly bringing tears to Steve's eyes. By the time the twenty minute ride concluded at the small airport, Steve's legs were cramped and his mood hostile.
The driver took the bags from the back of the car, extending his hand expectantly for his pay and tip. The woman gracefully paid her fare and then, glancing at Steve and Danny moved off.
The driver stood there awaiting their payment. Grudgingly Steve handed over the fare. The driver continued to wait, hand extended.
"The tip," Danny remarked. "And hers."
"What?" Steve snapped.
"The gentleman pays the lady's tip," Danny explained softly.
Steve held back the words that sprang to mind. "Take care of it," he muttered.
Danny counted out the tip.
The driver burst into a broad smile. "¡Gracias, señores!" He touched his cap.
As they walked towards the dusty terminal Steve remarked. "Must have been a big tip."
Danny smirked. "It'll be on the reimbursement form."
The airport in Bogata was small, but making attempts to look professional. There were armed guards with machine guns stationed in obvious locations with intent alert expressions. Although Bogata was peaceful enough, that claim could not be made for all of Colombia and certainly not for Colombia's neighbor, Bolivia, where the notorious revolutionary Che Guevara had been executed just a few weeks before, plunging the country into open warfare. Bogata wanted to take no chances with her tourists and business people.
Large ceiling fans moved the humid heat through the terminal where the young female clerk behind the ticket stand gracefully stamped the ticket of the woman who had shared the taxi, then swung the baggage that seemed almost as big as she was onto the cart behind her.
"Buenos dias," the clerk said in completion of the transaction with a broad white smile.
Steve and Danny stepped up to the counter.
"Americans," the girl said, her pleasure obvious. "You have a good stay?" Her accented English had obviously been well rehearsed.
"Yes, the stay was fine. Thank you," Steve replied cordially.
"Please come again," she said stamping the ticket and put his bag onto the cart. She focused her smile on Danny. "Good day, you have a good stay?"
He nodded. "Buenos dias, Senorita."
She blushed slightly, internally mildly honored that this young American had attempted to greet her in her native tongue. "Tu habla bien español."
Steve gave a wry look. It just takes a pretty girl for him to show off for.
Danny nodded, as though he was looking for a way to continue the conversation and had just exhausted most of the Spanish he could construct into sentence form. "¿Dónde está el lavabo?"
She giggled and pointed towards the sign on the right baring the international mens restroom figure.
Danny turned over his bag and gave a chuckle towards Steve. "Just in case you wanted to know," he muttered.
They took seats and watched the flies in their own holding patterns over the waiting area that was gradually filling with passengers. This flight to Mexico City would be the only international flight of the day so event though it was still before ten in the morning, the terminal was busy.
The flight was scheduled to leave at 10:45. At eleven, Steve glanced at his watch. Things were running pretty consistent with South American time - the flight would depart sometime today, but being close to the promised time did not seem to be of urgency.
A man's voice suddenly came over the loudspeaker declaring in a rush of Spanish information regarding the departure. People began rising from their seats. The information was repeated in English.
"Welcome to Satena Airlines, flight 329 to Mexico City. Please have your ticket in hand as we will prepare to board in just a moment."
Steve and Danny joined the line of humanity that had formed leading out onto the runway. The drone of the propeller driven engines could be heard as from outside, the DC-4 came into view from behind a hanger, it's propellers kicking up dust and trash that spiraled across the flat landing area. The engines died away and the dust settled. Just as the procession of people began to move, a large black Cadillac came charging across the tarmac. The back door was flung open and two men carrying weapons jumped out, looked around, then motioned the man inside to come ahead.
The sixty year old man, his silver and black peppered hair shining in the bright sunlight, left the car and, with still a third weapon toting man at his rear and climbed the stairway into the plane.
As the herd of people again began to move, the two bodyguards remaining at the steps gave a quick scan over each person. One man was pulled aside, screamed at, his pockets turned out and frisked before they allowed him to get on board.
"Looks like we are traveling in style today," Danny remarked.
"I think that is Romero Catava," Steve murmured. "I did not get a good look."
"Catava, huh?" Danny said with a nod. "Colombian ambassador. Explains the security."
One of the bodyguards stopped the line before Steve and Danny. "Good day, Señor McGarrett," the man said politely. "I see your conference. Americans have many -" he seemed to lose the word, " - ideas, yes? - about making our cities safe. This is a good thing."
Danny, who had been a little concerned about the response they would receive when the bodyguards discovered they were armed law enforcers, was relieved.
Steve shook the man's hand and they were waved ahead.
The plane was crowded with people in all stages of hygiene and squeezing down the narrow passageway was difficult. Steve and Danny had isle seats across from each other. One would sit next to a woman and her baby - who was loudly protesting his trip; the other seat seemed much more peaceful, next to a young frock-garbed priest.
"Your choice," Danny murmured.
Steve picked the priest and Danny sat down next to the young Colombian mother and her small crying infant. He began to playfully make noises at the baby in hope to quiet the child, but the boy, not older than three months was too young to be effectively entertained.
Steve greeted the young priest in polite tolerance.
"Pedro Ortiz," the young man replied in clear English with a smile and extended hand. "It is a pleasure to have your company."
Steve accurately assessed the priest to be younger than thirty, and accepted the shake. "Your English is very good," he replied to make conversation.
Pedro laughed. "It should be, I'm from Miami. I have come to Colombia to help with a mission here. I am meeting the bishop in Mexico City and bringing him back here to inspect the work."
Steve managed a nod. The plane was hot and stuffy. Every seat was crowded and most of the passengers were carrying bags and belongings on their laps. It somehow seemed like a glorified bus - just missing the chickens. The pilot restarted the engines and the propellers throbbed to life, vibrating through the passenger cabin with noise that was almost deafening.
The mother next to Danny, pulled her breast from beneath her shirt and began to nurse her infant, who promptly stopped crying and routed intently for the comfort of her milk. Danny turned uncomfortably toward Steve.
It would be a long ride.
Within moments, the plane was hurtling down the lumpy runway, bounding over the uneven spots of asphalt, then as engines whined, nosed up and struggled into the air much like an overweight goose. Airborne at last, the pilot kept the nose at a steep incline knowing they would need to get above ten thousand feet quickly to clear the Andes Mountains that lay immediately ahead.
The passengers were mostly silent, seeming aware that this process of flying was unnatural and for the first several moments of the flight it was difficult to forget that there were no ties to the earth that lay beneath.
Pedro rested back in his seat, a confident smile on his face. "I love flying," he remarked to Steve.
"Me, too," Steve answered. But this isn't flying.
Although the plane was still in steep assent, two or three passengers were already milling around in the cabin, holding loosely to the backs of seats as they made their ways along the narrow walkway.
The sound was sudden - a thump, followed quickly by two more pops.
"What's that?" Danny voiced towards Steve who sat up straighter.
"Whatever it is, it isn't good," Steve remarked, trying to look unalarmed. No sense frightening the passengers. He glanced out of the window, but heard a scream from the front of the cabin.
Black smoke was billowing down from the front, enveloping everything almost instantly. The engine pitch was whining and the plane suddenly began to roll towards the left. People began shouting and leaping out of their seats.
Steve, totally blind, tightened his seatbelt, coughing with each searing breath of fumes. We are going to crash! How can I survive this? He glanced in Danny's direction but could not see through the smoke. Things were falling from bins. Items that had been in passengers' hands were crashing through the compartment as the plane continued its inexorable roll. The wing engine was screaming now as the air was rushing past. Steve's seatbelt cutting into him was all that kept him from thudding against the ceiling as he could hear other non-restrained bodies doing. There was a brief nauseating sense of weightlessness. The plane is falling. Violent shaking and a momentary attempt to roll back towards the right were the only indications that the unseen pilots were fighting to correct the craft. The screams were mellowing into fierce coughing. I cannot breathe! I need to hang on just long enough for air.
The wrenching slam of the left wing striking the jungle spun the craft, tearing first the left, then the right wing from the fuselage.
In the blackness of smoke and impending unconsciousness, Steve could hear a prayer and as his mind realized that it had come from within himself, he was struck just over the left ear by a dislodged tray table opening a large gash on his head and rendering him senseless.
The destruction seemed to continue to unfold in slow motion. The only sounds now were of the loud ripping of the metal of the aircraft. The left side of the plane had been torn open, seats containing travelers blown out as the flooring was torn loose. The smoke billowed out through the holes, providing a limited visibility.
Danny, still conscious, could see the mother next to him, covered in blood, her left shoulder and arm gone, her baby having disappeared. The remaining fuselage of the DC-4 slammed against the side of a mountain, then rolled back to rest on the left side. Danny quickly released his seatbelt, dropping the short two feet down to the side of the plane, astonished that he had survived -- just as the body of a large man fell on him, pinning him against the wall, completely burying him, knocking the air out of him. Beneath the weight, he tried to breathe as incredible weight of more bodies piled atop of him. He was helpless to free himself and could not find another breath.
Fire had started in the front of the craft and was rapidly moving back through the passenger cabin. Pedro was amazed to find himself basically uninjured, still strapped to a seat that had been ejected from the side of the craft. Releasing the seatbelt, he stumbled to his feet. Throwing off his black frock and stiff collar, he climbed up into the five foot by five foot yawning opening that was where his seat had been in the plane. Almost immediately, he found Steve, his former seatmate, released the seat belt and pulled him from the craft.
There is no time to decide who is alive and who is not. I am the only person here to pull these people from the flames that are quickly approaching. I must save them all. Leaving behind only those obviously dead, Pedro grabbed person after person and pulled them from the craft. Flames were nearly upon him as he pulled the ninth person away from the inferno.
Danny could not breathe. He could feel the heat. I am going to die here. O please let me suffocate before I burn! He gave a last desperate effort to move beneath the mound of dead and dying humanity. There was a scream.
Pedro turned back. Someone is alive in there! He raced back into the flame, spotted the flaming woman and pulled her from the plane. He covered her with his jacket, beating out the fire, but her burns were terrible. He prayed for her as she collapsed in a faint. I need to find others. There must be more! The air was now filled with the bitter stench of burning flesh and plastic. He tried to go back into the craft, but the heat was unbearable. "Can anyone hear me?" he shouted, sweat and tears clouding his eyes. "Oh God, can you hear me! Help me!"
There was a movement in the midst of the heat radiating from the flaming interior.
Is that just an illusion? A foot moved right across there. There is a pile of bodies, but I think someone moved. Pedro hesitated, the flames were close, billowing black smoke rushed from the craft. Throwing his arm across his face in the heat, the young priest made one last venture into the small hell on earth. The first body was already burning, as he pulled it to the side, trying not to think of the human life that had been attached to it a short time before. The second and third were also dead. He turned back to the man who had been on the bottom and as he did, he saw a hand move. Pedro with adrenalin assisted near superhuman strength, grabbed hold of him by the shirt and leapt back for the gaping exit from the plane. The flames were now licking at the exit. As Pedro fell backwards through the opening, a life-grip on his last survivor, his shirt began to burn. Jumping back to his feet, he beat out the single flame and looked back a last time at the passenger cabin completely engulfed in fire.
Dan Williams, at Pedro's feet, gave a deep hacking cough.
Pedro squatted down next to him. "You are alive," he told him.
Danny opened his eyes, amazed to be both outside of the craft and alive. "Steve? Where is he?"
Pedro nodded. "He is here, but I don't know any more. I have just been pulling those out I could save." He glanced over towards those scattered about he had pulled from the plane. None of them were moving.
Just as Danny sat up and began to feel the bruises and aches, they heard a man begin screaming in pain a short distance away. Pedro and Danny both jumped up and followed the sound through the brush to where they found a man hunched over on his knees, hands pressed to his eyes.
"¡Mis ojos! ¡Ayúdeme! ¡Ojos queman!!" the man pleaded.
"Estamos aquí. Nosotros lo podemos ayudar," Pedro answered, taking hold of the man's arm, wondering if he really could help as he had promised.
The man was covered in oily hydraulic fluid. "He has hydraulic fluid in his eyes," Danny guessed, but a quick glance around did not reveal anything they could use to rinse the man's eyes out. "We need to wash his eyes."
The man kept sobbing and moaning, hands to his face.
"Our only hope is that his tears will wash much of it away," Pedro whispered in distress.
"We need to do something," Danny replied in frustration.
Pedro's gaze met his. Isn't that way I have felt for the last several minutes? Isn't there something more we can do?
Danny stumbled through the scattered debris that was littering the ground along with horrific parts of bodies and flesh. The plane had been cracked in two, everything in the forward part had been completely incinerated. The rear remained in flames. He found a suitcase that was intact, forced the lock open, but found nothing to wash the eyes out with. For several minutes he continued his frantic search until Pedro came to him.
"It does not matter any more," Pedro said quietly. "He has passed out for now. His eyes are beyond hope."
Danny stood helplessly, a lady's flowered skirt in one hand. "I need to find Steve," he murmured, trying to put aside this failure.
They walked back to the group of those Pedro had rescued and Danny knelt next to Steve. "He's alive," Danny announced in relief. There was a gash over Steve's left ear that had bled freely, yet was now congealed in a blackish-red mass, but his pulse was strong and there were no other obvious injuries. "Steve, can you hear me?"
McGarrett did not move.
Danny tried to check Steve's eyes, but wasn't completely sure what he was looking for. At least the pupils were equal and reactive - he could remember that much for first aid training. He sat back on his heels and glanced around at the jungle. Just what I wanted - to be dumped into a South American jungle.
Steve gave a low groan.
"Hey," Danny shook him gently again. "Steve, wake up."
McGarrett was aware first that he hurt all over, then was able to focus on the pain in his head that threatened to explode with every heartbeat. At least I have a heartbeat. He slowly opened his eyes, to see Danny leaning over him. We are both alive.
"You okay?" Danny asked.
Steve tested each arm and leg, realizing that aside from his throbbing headache, he seemed remarkably in good condition. "I think so."
Pedro moved amongst the other rescued passengers - two were dead, three more including the burned woman would likely die soon. He now approached the two Five-0 officers. "We need to help these people," he said cautiously to Danny.
Danny and Steve both looked at him. "There isn't a whole lot we can do but wait for a rescue team."
Pedro ran a hand through his dark hair. "Rescue team?" He glanced up at the mountains around them. "It will be at least a day - maybe more."
"You are not recommending we try to hike out of here, are you?" Danny stated, his tone clear he did not think it was a good idea.
Pedro looked a bit uncertain in the face of Danny's determined response. "I don't know."
"We need to stay with the plane," Danny replied. "They will be looking for a downed craft. We wander off into the jungle and we will be worse off than we are now. Let's try to see how everyone is and if we have any resources at all."
Pedro gave a nod,
and seemed willing to release leadership to Danny - for now.
They spent the next hour assessing the survivors and doing a preliminary examination of what they had to use. It was difficult not to be affected by the grizzly bits of bodies that lay on the ground and dangled from trees. And as the sun began to sink towards the mountain tops Danny began to wonder about what new hazards the night would bring.
Steve had done his best to take part in the activity, but his head ached so severely, he had to sit down frequently. On one of his short spurts of activity, he turned over a curved piece of outer skin of the plane and was shocked when there came a responding cry of a baby. Both Danny and Pedro came on the run and the three of them stared down at the wriggling baby that lay screaming and in apparent good health.
"A miracle," Pedro whispered, dropping to his knees in a spontaneous gesture of prayer.
Steve and Danny exchanged glances. "How will we keep a baby alive?" Danny muttered, recognizing the infant of his seatmate. "I think his name is Esteban."
Pedro gently collected the baby into his arms and for a moment, Esteban stopped crying. "He is a gift, a sign that God is going to bring us through."
He is a liability in a situation that is already desperate, Steve thought, but did not express.
In another hour, several of the saved passengers had regained consciousness, some just to lie in pain. The man whose eyes had been injured was amongst them. He was totally blind.
"There are thirteen of us alive," Pedro reported. "Five are in very poor condition. Delores," he motioned to the unconscious woman with third degree burns, "may not live through the night."
Night. Danny glanced skyward. Yes, darkness would soon be upon them and with it cold and the nocturnal predators. I have just six rounds. It isn't much.
"There is no food or water," Steve added. "What is the likelihood of a search party arriving by morning?"
Pedro looked skeptical.
"Ambassador Catava is here," the blind man, Carlos, commented in a deep, but determined voice. "They will look for us."
Catava was actually sitting amongst them, one of the few in reasonably good condition except for broken arm that Pedro and Danny had effectively splinted. The blind man had been one of his bodyguards and Catava had now become dedicated to the care of the man who had before been his protector. "Unfortunately, although my presence may encourage action, it will not help the search parties find us any sooner. We are in a valley between two ridges of tall mountains. We might not be found for days."
"It is getting cold, we need light and warmth," Danny announced and got to his feet. "I'm going to find something to use for fire wood." Finding wood would not be a problem - finding dry burnable wood might be something else.
"I'll come with you," Steve offered.
They moved off from the group. "How's your head?" Danny asked.
"Hurts." Steve picked up a long stick and used it to hunt through the brush. "We need to determine why that plane went down."
Danny blinked in surprise. "Let the aeronautical team do that."
"No, we need to do that," Steve answered gazing at the pathway the plane had taken.
"I don't understand," Danny murmured.
"Why did it go down?" Steve insisted. "Those odd sounds we heard, remember?"
"I think someone was shooting at the plane."
Danny's jaw dropped. "We were shot down? Why?" The answer came over him. "Catava."
Steve nodded. "Yeah, Catava. And my guess is we have just twelve rounds of ammunition between him and his assassins. If someone is trying to kill Catava, he will come to make sure the job was done."
"We can't stay with the plane," Danny whispered.
"No, we have to stay with the plane," Steve countered. "But we need to be ready."
"We won't stand a chance."
"Nor will we stand a chance in that jungle," Steve snapped. "Most of those people will die if we try to move them." He bent down and picked up a book. It would burn. They picked up a few more odds and ends before Steve noticed large potion of plane poking through the greenery a short distance away. It was most of the right wing. It was still smoking near the engine that had supported the now missing propeller, otherwise it was intact. Steve walked the length of it carefully, examining each inch. "Danno," he motioned to one spot. "What do you think?"
Danny examined the small circular hole, then spotted a second. "Looks like a bullet hole to me. High powered velocity. Two of them." He sighed. "What are we going to tell them?"
Steve lifted an eyebrow.
"The truth - that they may have just survived a plane crash to be
killed by revolutionaries."
end Part 1
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