The Soul That Perishes
As soon as light permitted, Danny and Steve left the others and a foraged for anything they could eat for strength. They returned with a small collection of tubers, several very green plantains and some amaranth leaves. The banana was crushed into a mush that Pedro forced into Esteban's mouth. As the baby made some attempt to eat the fruit, Pedro gave a smile and nod.
"We make to the river today," Catava commented. "You see, there will be help there. People travel the river."
Steve shook his head slightly. "Let's hope the right people." He ran a hand through his dark wet hair that flopped back against his head. The headaches were not as severe, the soaking rain had washed most of the old blood away to where it now stained his once white shirt. The gash on his head was now surrounded by deep black bruising.
Danny helped Pedro lift Esteban back into the makeshift sling. "You want me to carry him for awhile?" Danny offered.
"No, this I can do," Pedro replied. "I'm afraid that as we near the river, we will be a greater risk. You will need to keep your hands free."
Danny agreed. They started off again.
"Who's the lady with the money?" Frank Fletcher turned from the small plane, hands on hips, his grease rag still held in his left.
"That would be me," Clara declared bravely, stepping forward.
"US cash, right?" Frank demanded, taking no account of her age or stature.
She held out the fistful of bills. "You'd better get us in to Bogata."
Frank grinned and scratched his unshaven face. "At your disposal, my lady." He bowed and motioned towards the door of the plane. He found it comical that a housewife, grandmother, oriental and priest were traveling together. Quite an odd party to say the least. But their money was green and that was good. He had not had a good legal fare in several weeks. Drug and gun smuggling took its toll on a man's nerves after a while.
They got on board, Maryann glancing around nervously. "It seems like a very small plane," she murmured to Chin.
He gave a quiet smile. "It will get us there," he replied confidently, but inwardly cringed. It did seem very small.
Frank got into the pilot's seat and started the engine. He listened to it for a moment or two, played with some knobs, then gave a grin and a brave thumb-up. "And away we go."
The lift-off from the Mexico City airport was an adventure in itself. Compared to the relative quiet and smoothness of jetliners, the small plane seemed to bounce around like a ping-pong ball.
"Weather's a bit clouded over in Colombia," he called back to them as they traveled southeastward. Should be looking better by the time we arrive. Get comfortable, it will take a couple of hours."
Comfort did not seem to be something that would be easily found on the small plane, but Chin did what he could. Maryann and Clara had nestled against each other - Maryann dozing, Clara staring out of the window in anticipation. Father Romero was squeezed next to Chin in prayer.
Chin wasn't entirely certain of what they would do once they arrived in Bogata. He was fairly sure the Colombian authorities would not be happy about their presence, but even if their company only served to speed up the search it would be enough. He was completely aware that Clara Williams had put up more money for this little trip than he made in a year. Although he had known her for years, that also was intimidating.
Chin glanced up, Clara's eyes met his. He looked away.
"What are you thinking about, Chin?" she asked softly, just barely over the noise of the propeller.
He shook his head.
"They are going to be all right, Chin. I just know it. You'll see."
She always did have a way of making reality as she wished it to be. He noticed Maryann hug herself more tightly. And Maryann sees reality for what it is. I can tell she believes her brother is dead. Which reality is more painful?
MaryAnn McGarrett had not always enjoyed her childhood. Her father died when she was only eight, her mother had fallen apart never to totally recover and Steve as older brother had assumed the role of parent for her until he left for the Naval Academy when she was 14. She recalled hating him for abandoning her. It is hard to imagine a world without my older brother.
He has always called on birthdays and holidays. But he wasn't there for my wedding. He couldn't help it, but it was awful not to have him there to give me away. He was so upset about being gone. He has always been so protective of me. Now it's my turn to protect him - even if it is only what is left of him.
As they traveled lower, the air got heavier, hotter and the mosquitoes unbearable. There were welts covering every inch of skin showing on each man. They were so exhausted that they could only walk about ten minutes without resting. Esteban rarely fussed anymore as he was carried along by Pedro, his small arms dropping out of the sling limply from time to time.
They stopped again to rest, swatting bugs off their sweaty skin.
"I don't hear monkeys anymore," Catava murmured cautiously.
Almost as he spoke they were suddenly surrounded by automatic gunfire. They all dropped and dodged for cover as shots shattered branches and slammed into tree trunks around them.
Steve spun under the cover of shrubs, firing several careful and well-timed rounds, but unable to determine if they were effective.
Danny had rolled the opposite way, Catava another ten yards from him. "Give me the rifle!" Danny yelled to Catava, knowing the man with a broken arm could not fire the M16 with any accuracy.
Catava, gripped the weapon tighter, then suddenly rolled out of sight beneath greenery.
"Catava!" Danny attempted to dodge after him.
There was a shout - and a booted foot stepped heavily down on Danny's outstretched arm, pinning him on his back. "No mueva." The mean spun around, keeping his foot on Danny's arm shouting that he had caught one. Nine other armed men came from the shadows and trees yelling and jeering.
Steve could see Danny from his hiding place. Their eyes met and Steve could read the fear beneath the resolution in Danny's look. Steve glanced around, looking for Pedro and Catava, but did not seem them right away. Then he spotted Pedro huddled over the baby in the brush. Where is Catava? He has the other gun.
One of the men came close and Danny recognized him from the plane. The man launched into a long explanation of how Danny was an American who had been one of the ones who killed his brother and friend. He wanted them to kill him on the spot.
Several of the others disagreed - wanting their commander to make the decision; believing an American could be worth something; authorities were looking for them and that could mean money. The argument persisted several minutes before the one on Danny's arm waved his rifle at the men who backed away.
Danny had used the time they argued to try to develop a strategy. He knew he could get a swift leg up and kick the genitalia of the man on his arm. The man would stumble, Danny could get his gun and probably shoot him and one other before they responded. By that time Steve would be able to take out at least two more. But that was only four. During that five seconds or so, one of the remaining six was bound to target him, and once Steve fired they would find him as well. There are too many of them.
The man stepped off Danny's arm. "¡Arriba!" he ordered, jabbing a rifle barrel against Danny's shoulder. He slowly started to get up, but the man pushed him roughly to his knees. He turned and shouted into the air. "¡Oigame! ¡Salga ahora!"
"English," Danny muttered to him.
He spun and slammed the butt of the rifle into Danny's left eye, knocking him off his knees flat on his back. The left side of his face and eye swelled instantly. Blood ran down from a cut opened above his left eyebrow.
The man shouted again. "¡Venga ahora o yo lo mato!" Some of his partners began shouting angrily at him. He rammed Danny in the stomach with the rifle butt. Danny gasped in pain, curling doubled on the ground, memories of the beating Carlos took springing to mind. Attempting to recover, he looked at Steve, less than twelve feet away under the cover of foliage.
Failing to gain a translation, Steve was still pretty sure the man was threatening to kill Danny. He figured his weapon torn in fury. So close, but too far. Am I going to sit here and let them beat Danny to death the way Carlos was stomped? Danny did not leave me before. I will not abandon him now. He knew from Danny's glare that his junior officer was not expecting heroism.
Go, Steve. Take them and go.
The rebel kicked Danny twice in the chest, then issued a sneer, stepped over him and using the rifle as a club, slammed the butt into his victim's left kidney.
Danny issued a grunt, gritting his teeth against the pain. When his eyes opened, they were still focused on Steve's, the same determined message in them.
Steve glanced over at Pedro through the thick ground cover, but the young priest had not moved. This is a replay of this morning, the roles switched. McGarrett glanced around at the odds, coming to the same conclusion about the numbers that Danny had. No way to take them all. Where is Catava? He must have the other weapon. He could make the difference. But Steve could not see Catava; he wondered if the Colombian dignitary had had his fill of his American protectors and fled. Danny wants me to leave him. How can I do that? It is sure death.
The new round of argument had died down. A different man shouted. "Americans. You here. Come now. We have food. We take you to Americans for money." He gave a nod and a grin, expecting a response.
The empty jungle answered him.
One of the men cursed in Spanish. Another man came over and tied Danny's hands tightly together with clothesline, then motioned him to his feet.
Danny got up slowly, testing the bonds and finding them tight. As he rose, he lost eye contact with McGarrett and prayed his superior would not attempt to rescue him. I took that chance last time, but it was different. There were fewer rebels that time. Steve isn't going to take this kind of a risk with so many of them.
"Vayamos," the one in charge ordered his men. One grabbed hold of the rope that tied Danny's hands and they slipped off into the jungle nearly as quickly as they had appeared.
Steve resisted the urge to follow them immediately, waiting in hiding for several minutes. I have to follow them, but they may have left a spotter behind. I can let Catava and Pedro head to the river. I need to follow Danny. At last he slowly slipped out of hiding, not having seen or heard Catava. Pedro was still huddled under the bush. "Pedro," Steve whispered to him then crept under the shrub and touched the priest's shoulder.
Pedro issued a sound of pain. "Steve," he whispered.
Steve rolled him over, noting how he had managed to lie protecting the baby beneath him. Esteban gave a little cawing sound. Pedro's white shirt was saturated in blood. McGarrett quickly pulled away the sling, laying the infant to the side.
Pedro's skin was pallid, his breathing gasping. "I've been shot. I am dying, McGarrett," he whispered.
Steve frowned, knowing the assessment to be true. I have no way to treat him, no way to help him. No way to get him out. All I can do is comfort him. He half cradled the dying man on his lap, knowing that he was going to have to spend the time helping a man through death instead of helping another man live.
Pedro was already only half-conscious. "Miserére mei, Deus: secúndum magnam misericordiam tuam "
Steve recognized the request for Last Rites instantly; his mouth went dry.
"Miserére mei, Deus ," Pedro whispered in prayer again, trying to reach into his pocket unsuccessfully.
Steve was awash in the religion of his youth -- the memories of a dead faith. Can I possibly administer last rites to a dying priest? Even if I believed it has been so long. He pulled the rosary from Pedro's pocket and placed it in the young man's hand that was already growing cold.
"Glora Patri, et Filii, et Spiritui ..Sancti ." Pedro gasped, his fingers trying to play over the beads.
"Per sacrosáncta humánae reparatiónis mystéria remittat tibi omnipotens " Steve murmured, surprised at how easily he could recall what he would rather forget. "Deus omnes praeséntis et futúrae vitae paenas, Paradísi portas apériat, et ad gáudia sempitérna perdúcat."
Pedro pressed the rosary back into Steve's hand and tried to fold Steve's finger's over it. "Keep," he managed to whisper.
"Father, this is yours," Steve started to protest.
Pedro just gave a quiet smile. His features grew calm, peaceful. He very slowly relaxed and gradually went limp. There was a heartbeat for a minute or two longer although the lungs filled with blood no longer attempted to breathe, then the young heart dedicated to God stopped.
McGarrett reverently lay the empty body down, barely able to breathe himself. I have seen the innocent die before, this is nothing new. But he was a priest Steve looked at the rosary in his hand. He had severed his ties with religion years before; he saw no need to dabble in what he considered to be superstition and ritual for the faint-hearted. Pedro was not faint-hearted. He died protecting a dying infant to whom he owed nothing. A child whose mother is dead, who will without a doubt end up as an abandoned life in some nameless orphanage to grow up as a nameless peasant and live out a meaningless life - if he survives at all. Pedro might have made a difference in hundreds of lives and he is dead. Did he waste his life? I hope not. Steve struggled to pull his mind back to the issues at present. I have to care for this baby, I have to find Danno and rescue him.
Esteban made little cawing sounds, more alert than earlier, attempting to get Steve's attention. As Steve picked him up, he gave a weak, fussy cry. Steve wrapped the make-shift now blood-soaked sling about himself and secured Esteban inside. Steve carefully slipped the rosary into the fold of the sling. The baby continued to fuss. He glanced around. Catava is not here. He ran, taking one rifle with him.
Steve picked up the remaining rifle, knowing it contained only seven rounds and started in the direction Danny's captors had gone.
As Chin had suspected, the Colombian officials were not happy with their arrival. They first cursed the pilot, threatening to impound his plane, but he shrugged and told them it was a paying fare, he was just a business man.
The senior official then confronted the small group. "Bad thing for you to come here," he announced. "We spend all our time searching, now we have to spend it caring for you."
"We don't need any care," Clara snapped.
He hesitated, his upbringing called for him to give respect to women and the elderly - Clara was both, but he felt little respect. "Mother," he said, trying to be calm, "it is not safe for you here."
"Poppycock," she answered with a wave of her hand.
He flexed his jaw and glanced at Chin. He had never met an Asian before. "You speak English?" he asked of him.
Chin gave a tolerant grin. "All my life." He extended a hand. "Chin Ho Kelley, Five-0, State Police, Hawaii."
"Aha. Commander Alejandro Hura," the officer replied accepting the handshake. "You must make these civilians leave."
Good, I am not viewed as a civilian, Chin thought with inward satisfaction. "Give me a moment," he replied and drew the priest and two women to one side. "Father, perhaps it would be more comfortable if you all waited at the church in town. I assume you would be welcome there."
Father Ramone hesitated.
"If there is anything that is needed for any survivors right now, it's prayer," Chin added before the priest could make a comment.
"We did not come this far to be pushed away!" MaryAnn protested.
"MaryAnn," Chin murmured close to her. "You did not expect to take off into the jungle did you? Certainly the church just a few blocks away will be close enough. And perhaps these men will let me go with them if I can show I have some authority with you."
Clara snorted. "Chin, really."
He frowned, trying not to show his feelings. "Clara, you know I am right." His eye met hers.
Slowly she lowered her gaze and looked away. "You will tell us right away."
"Immediately," he assured her.
MaryAnn, overruled, gave a nod.
Father Ramone gave a nod and allowed an officer to direct him towards the phone to call the church.
Squaring his shoulders, Chin turned back to Hura. "Okay, they go with the priest. I go with you."
Hura blinked, then gave a reluctant nod.
"What is the status of the search?" Chin demanded. I have a little power, might as well maximize it.
"Our teams continue to search for the plane by air and on foot. A helicopter located part of the wing this morning. He pointed to a spot on the map. We are concentrating in the area near the valley."
There came a shout from outside Hura's command post as a young officer ran in announcing in a rush of Spanish that the plane had been found.
"You bring us good luck," Hura commented to Chin. "Let's go." Hura pointed towards a chinook helicopter that had just been started, it's two rotors slowly beginning to turn in unison. They climbed aboard as the engines began to rev and in moments, the spin of the blades intensified. Even before they had fastened their seatbelts, the craft was lifting off as the chopper headed towards the crash site.
Chin felt his heart racing even faster than the chopper blades. What will we find? I have been to a plane crash site once before - not a pretty sight and it was just a small four seater Piper. This is a DC4 - it held over seventy souls. Seventy. And it has been two days. Can I bear to encounter Steve and Danny's bodies and the condition they may be in? Can I bear to not find them? Is there any chance at all that they survived?
The plane was not visible from the air due to the heavy jungle growth; it was a team on foot that had reported the finding. They had not reported survivors. Even as the chopper descended to land, the plane was not evident until the last few moments, then disappeared from view again as the helicopter set down about a quarter mile away in a small clear spot.
Each step towards the wreck increased both anticipation and dread. Chin, still in a suit, was not dressed for jungle hiking, but made no complaints. Even before they reached the site, the smell of rotting death greeted them. They all pulled handkerchiefs to cover their noses and mouths, but it did not help much. Chin looked anxiously around the scene, torn between hoping to find his friends and not wishing to find them amongst the corpses.
"Anyone alive?" Hura asked through his cloth of one of the soldiers.
The man pointed inside the aircraft.
The FARC unit kept a quick pace through the jungle and Danny struggled to keep up with. Exhausted, starved, thirsty and hands tied, he stumbled several times, each time to be beaten with rifle butts as he staggered back to his feet. After close to an hour at nearly a jog, they came to a small village that had obviously been built to support their group.
There were several small woven roofed and thin plywood sided dwellings where small children and women stood in the doorways peering out at the group as they arrived.
A woman came out and embraced one of the rebels, who returned the affection in somewhat embarrassed fashion.
A second woman stood, hands to her lips, as the men walked past. It was evident she was looking for someone - someone who was not there. "¿Dónde está Alberto?" she called out pleadingly. The men ignored her. She began to wail the loss of her husband as several women and children gathered around her.
Danny was surprised that this seemed like a village of families more than a revolutionary camp. He could smell food cooking over a fire and his stomach rolled. The man who had led the group took hold of the rope leash and led Danny into an open covered pavilion area where another man huddled over papers on a table.
"Emmel, tenemos a un preso.," the man reported glancing at Danny.
Emmel looked away from his paperwork. "Well." He straightened in the chair. "Prisoner, huh?" he remarked gazing at Danny, then frowned. "Geraldo, you always beat your prisoners?"
Geraldo seemed not to have a good understanding of the English and Danny knew the question was for him. Of course Geraldo always beat his prisoners.
Emmel pointed to a metal chair. "Sit. Geraldo, alimento."
Geraldo nodded and left. Moments later a young girl appeared and timidly handed a plate of beans and rice to Emmel. She paused, making eye contact with Danny and gave a timid curious half smile.
Danny returned the quiet smile.
Emmel gruffly waved the child away, glanced at Danny, then pushed the plate into his still bound hands.
Resisting the urge to gulp down the food even though tied, Danny remarked. "I cannot eat with my hands tied."
Emmel gave a broad smile. "I guess not." He untied the rope. "There. You eat now." He shoved his cup of weak tea towards Danny as well. "How you come to be in the jungle?"
Danny ate two bites before replying. "I was part of an adventure team, I got lost."
Emmel chuckled. "Adventure team? Were you having a good adventure?"
He did not reply as he ate. The food hitting his empty stomach was like heaven. He paused to wonder about Steve and the others. They were still hungry. If I get away I must take them some food. How will I know where to find them? The river?
"Did you hear the news? Bad plane crash. You know anything about this?" Emmel asked enjoying the one-sided conversation. "Hum. There some Americans on that plane. You American wandering in jungle." He leaned close to Danny. "I think you on that plane, yes?"
Danny took a drink of the tea, grateful he had not been offered water. At least he knew the tea water had been boiled. He belched. "Thank you for the meal."
"Ah, a most gracious prisoner," Emmel said with a smile. "And I will be the gracious host. Tell me, who else survive that crash? I lose several men lots of shooting they tell me. You did not do all that shooting, eh? If you did, you killed three of my friends at the plane and two in the jungle." Emmel toyed with a nine-inch combat knife, digging the tip into the tabletop. "Tell me, American, you kill five of my men?"
Danny looked down at the dirt floor, knowing there was no acceptable answer.
Emmel nodded. "You see? Now, you have others with you. I know you travel with Romero Catava. Americans do not understand except what they get. Catava promises big money to American business men. Our money. The people's money."
"I don't make policy for the Americans," Danny commented. "I'm just a tourist going home."
Emmel played with his knife again, this time fingering the edge. "Do I look like a fool to you?" He suddenly lunged forward placing the blade at Danny's neck.
He gasped, trying to look unmoved, the cold steel sharp against his hot neck.
"All the news is about Americans on that plane. One priest, two policemen. You do not look like a priest." He removed the knife and rested placidly back in the chair once again, fingering the blade with his thumb. "What shall I do with you, huh?"
Danny did not reply right away. There was silence except for clucking chickens and buzzing flies. Finally, wanting to look as though he had given this great thought Danny suggested: "You want money. You give me to the Americans they will be very happy. You will be a hero. They will give you money. Kill me and they will send the army and kill you."
Emmel gave a half-smile. "Americans send army to Asia. They will not come here over one man."
"America has many armies. Some travel like you." He kept a steady gaze eye to eye with Emmel.
That got his attention. He scowled, taking a moment to glance at the jungle around him.
"Much better to be the rich hero." Danny was hopeful that his reasoning was making sense to Emmel.
Emmel rose from his seat and walked out into the open common area shouting for his men. As they rapidly assembled he demanded where the rest of the Americans were. He wanted them found and brought to him immediately. The men began talking and arguing, but Emmel was without question in charge. He turned back and motioned Danny to join them.
He cautiously walked down to the group, aware of every person's move.
"You tell them where your group is. I bring them here - feed them, care for them - we take all of them to the Americans."
Danny hesitated. Do I know where they are? What of Catava? Then he thought of Esteban, not likely to live another day. His gaze drifted over one of the women seated in a doorway nursing a small infant. "What of Catava?" he asked.
Emmel frowned. "He is Colombian, not your matter."
"I won't turn someone over to you to kill," he replied.
Emmel chewed the inside of his cheek. "I think," he said quietly in Danny's ear, "you are not in position to bargain, eh? What if I tell my men you are C - I - A?"
Danny did not move.
"They kill you - slowly. They cut off your fingers, toes, ears. If you do not die from that, they cut off more valuable pieces of you. You live only if I decide it, comprenda?"
Danny gazed steadily at Emmel, trying to look fearless. "Luna kou `êlemu," he murmured.
Emmel squinted. "Eh?"
Danny did not repeat 'up your ass' in Hawaiian, Spanish or English. He had accomplished the break in the mood and stolen control for just that moment. He stood in emotionless silence.
Emmel broke the stare first. "Aye," he waved a hand to bush away the importance, then in a remarkably friendly fashion placed a hand on Danny's shoulder and said quietly. "I will be generous to your friends - but Catava is mine."
Danny stood silently, making no comments.
"Now," Emmel murmured. "You take us to them. If you fail, you will not feel the remorse for long, but long enough." He scooped up an AK47.
Steve had lost the trail of the rebels. They had traveled much more quickly than he could hope and were stealth enough to travel through the jungle without leaving a trail. At last, he sat down to rest, adjusting the sling where Esteban slept fitfully. It was hot, but the baby's skin was even hotter and flushed. How much longer can I go on? He noticed a small hollowed stick that still contained an ounce or so of rainwater from the night before and drank it down thirstily. I told Danny that the team would stand together. There is little I can do to help him now. He could feel exhaustion and hopelessness crawling like some reptile up his body. The urge to just stay here and give up was overwhelming. There were thirteen living when we started, now there is just me and this baby who will not live much longer. Will I be the soul survivor again? He could remember the elation of surviving, the bitter anger and remorse at living when others died. Why did I live? Why am I alive now? I stayed alive because I had the desire to. I must have that desire again. I can still do something to help Danno. I just need to find him. The way to find him is to find a rescue team - and maybe that will be at the river. He swatted at bugs, trying to find the energy to rise. The jungle was alive with the sounds of nature; he squatted where he sat listening, unable to move. I have to move, but I cannot. His attention was taken by a colorful snake moving slowly amongst the leaves a short distance away. It's skin glistening as it moved silently without seeming to take note of the humans nearby. The thought suddenly struck him that the snake was food.
With a quick strike, he hit the snake with the butt of the rifle, it transformed into a coiling, writhing serpent. With two more blows, it was dead. Not completely certain the best way to eat it, he picked some of the skin away and bit into the raw flesh. Watery fluid ran over his hands and he hoped he was not ingested some kind of poison, but he kept gnawing away on the snake.
Half an hour later, hands covering with sticky fluid, he did the best he could to wipe them on his slacks and rose with a renewed sense of purpose. We head for the river. He prayed it would not be much farther. The ground beneath his feet had been growing steadily softer, the undergrowth getting thicker. He missed the machete that had vanished when Danny was taken.
The weight of the baby pulled on his shoulders, the smell of old blood was attracting insects and Steve wondered what else. He had not seen a jaguar since the accident and hoped the good luck would hold. He had only six shots left and would not have liked to use one on a wild animal. He glanced down at Esteban who gazed back through half-closed disinterested eyes -- the look of the eyes of the old, not the eyes of a child. He gently patted the child's back hoping to provide some bit of comfort. The only sound the baby uttered was an occasional raspy cough.
He heard a sound and stopped. Yes, it was the deep sound of fast moving water. The river! Steve hurried ahead, scrambling over obstacles of fallen trees, scrub brush and rocks, getting faster and faster as the sound grew and swelled. It would be glorious to fall into the open arms of rescue teams, but he could not believe that would happen. He parted some large rubber tree branches and it was suddenly before him. The large, muddy brown river flowing northward towards the ocean was impressive under any conditions. It was easily a fifty yards across, cutting through the mountain. Steve was only about ten feet above it, but a cliff rose majestically to his left. He breathed a sigh of relief that he had not approached it from above. The steep cliff would have been nearly impossible to climb down. The river narrowed towards the right twisting from sight. Certainly there would be settlements in that direction.
Panting and sweating from the exertion, Steve sat down to rest for a few minutes, waiting to see if any kind of traffic would appear along the right and whether it would be friend or foe. He loosened the sling and examined the baby. With the change of position, Esteban whined and coughed.
The men seemed to travel the route effortlessly, used to both altitude and the exercise. Danny had been exhausted after the first hike. He had trouble keeping up now. Geraldo kept tugging the rope and calling back for him to keep up, periodically intentionally taking the difficult path just to watch Danny struggle. After a near run for about twenty minutes, the group suddenly stopped.
Danny leaned against a tree, gasping for breath, trying to wipe perspiration from his face. The left side of his face was swollen and throbbed from the blow earlier. His ribs ached from the kicks he'd received.
"You," Emmel called out stepping over to him. "Where from here?"
"What?" Danny replied, between breaths.
"Where are they?"
He straightened some. "Hell, I don't know where we are. How should I know where they are?"
"You say the river."
Did I? I don't remember saying that. "So?" he replied.
Emmel spun him around to face the other direction. "Rio Magdalena."
Danny gasped. They were at the top of a nearly 100 foot cliff. Beneath them the chocolate colored river spread out, rushing for the sea. He noted immediately that it was wide and quick moving and, hopefully, deep.
"Where now?" Emmel repeated.
The rope was still tied to Geraldo's belt. Danny tugged it gently, getting a little closer to the edge. The Colombian militant moved with him, but looked nervous. Danny took two more steps closer to the edge motioning Geraldo to come with him.
This time, Geraldo did not move.
He noticed a slight movement below the cliff to the right. It can't be. He heard a faint cough of a child.
Emmel heard it too. "¡Escuche!" he shouted running forward, creating a small pandemonium amongst his men.
Steve looked up from the bottom of the cliff hearing men's shouting voices. Is it a rescue team? He knew better than to assume that. He could not see much from where he was, buried himself more deeply into the brush, one hand lightly over Esteban's mouth. Do not cry now!
Danny took the moment and the only opportunity he saw for both freedom and distraction. Tugging on the rope, he got Geraldo's attention back. "Come, look," he commented drawing the man closer to the edge.
Geraldo came a little closer.
"Come closer," Danny said and pointed towards the river. "See, there? See?"
"No, see," Geraldo admitted, his brow knit as he looked across the cliff, taking only one step closer.
The rope between them was lax, actually touching the ground. Danny glanced at the distance he had to go. "You'll have to come closer to see," he commented, taking Geraldo's arm.
The rebel pulled away from Danny's touch, stepping closer to the edge.
"Let me give you the best view," Danny muttered, then broke into a full speed run towards the edge of the cliff, a distance of about six feet, clearing it just before the rope snapped taut.
Geraldo issued a panicked scream, loosing his balance as he was pulled forward. Another of the rebels reached to grab him, but missed.
Danny plunged towards the water, trying to get his feet downward, but became quickly entangled in the rope, knowing that his former captor was just a moment or two above him. He prayed the water was as deep as it looked. He hit the water hard and was almost instantly slammed by the full weight of the falling Geraldo. He hit a rock at the bottom of the river with his right knee, but not has hard as he would have feared.
Steve both saw and heard the splash and knew that two men had gone off the cliff. That could only be one thing. How high was that cliff? Certainly Danny wouldn't jump. It's suicide. He strained to see what was happening in the water, but not give their position away.
The men at the top of the cliff were shouting and began shooting into the water.
Danny, entangled in the rope and the flailing limbs of the panicked Geraldo struggled desperately to free himself. He broke the surface, just as a bullet hit the water next to him. Geraldo came up beside him, grabbed for him, and he ducked under the man using him as a shield. Geraldo, unable to swim, grabbed hold of Danny's head, trying to climb upward out of the water over his prisoner, ignoring the bullets were peppering the surface of the river. The two men, roped together in a life and death battle had already been gripped in the current and would carry them away from the cliff in just a matter of seconds. Geraldo suddenly stiffened, then went limp - shot by one of the men above. Danny ducked beneath the water again, trying again to free his hands. The eddy beneath the surface was quicker and the water turbulent from rocks along the bottom. They began to move faster.
The rebels were running and scrambling down the steep cliff, following the body of Geraldo laying facedown in the river. It would take them several minutes to climb down. Steve gathered the baby into his arms and picking up his rifle, ran ahead over the rough terrain, keeping the body in view. Until Danny gets free from that man, they will be able to find him easily. And it won't take long for the body to come an anchor instead of a buoy.
Danny surfaced for air, realized for that the instant he was out of sight and no longer a target. The wet knotted rope was tight about his wrists. The only way to get free would be to cut the rope. As the river swept them on, he tried to pull the bleeding body closer to see if Geraldo had a knife.
Danny collided with a large submerged rock with the same already injured right knee, letting out a shocked cry as the pain fired up to his hip and down to his toes. He slammed into a second rock across the ribs. The river's speed was still increasing. Desperately, he grabbed at Geraldo's belt buckle and began working it open. The roar of the river was increasing, the river narrowing as it began to work through a ravine. Rocks were rising up through the water, others just submerged beneath the water, and he could hear the tell-tale throaty roar of churning water. We are headed for rapids. He got the belt open and pulled with all his might. It did not come free. He would have to pull it from each loop. They entered the white foaming water.
No longer able to focus on the belt, Danny fought to keep his head above water and away from hitting a rock. There were outcroppings of rocks from the shore and he attempted to grab hold of something to pull himself from the water, but the speed and weight of Geraldo's body snatched him away before he could get aground.
Steve had hurried along with banks as quickly as he could, keeping one eye on the men who were being drawn rapidly farther ahead in the water, the other eye on the foliage behind hoping not to be overtaken by the FARC. He was out of breath, sweat poured off him. He paused a moment and also heard the roar of rapids.
The churning water yanked Danny one way, dead Geraldo the other, the rope snapped taut with violent force pulling Danny backward through the current for a moment, dragging him underwater. They were thrown back against each other a moment later, rope once again tangling amongst limbs of the living and the dead. They were swept over a flat rock and dropped to the next level, banging against rocks as they went. The rope ensnared in a root and the two men were slammed together face to face. Danny stared into the bloody face of Geraldo, tried to pull himself away as the water surged over them making breathing almost impossible. He felt the root give, he moved a little, then the rope wrapped around his foot, pulling him beneath the surface. He struggled in a near panic - it seemed the dead man was grabbing him, holding him down. He couldn't breathe, couldn't think. The root broke free.
The force of the river lifted him back above the surface.
The large rocks seemed to have been dropped into the river here like some careless giant child's play blocks. Several piled up in small heaps, others just beneath the water's surface as the racing water flushed over them. The deep channel in the center of the river was interrupted by a large flat rock with a column of mounded rocks poking above the surface about two feet on either side.
The churning current slid the knot of men over the smooth face of a large rock. The rushing water was less that six inches deep, looked like a shining glass surface against the rock face, but was deadly on the far side as the flow converged with the hundreds of gallons of water rushing around the immovable objects to either side creating a downward spiraling vortex.
The body of Geraldo rolled over the rock first, plunging headlong into the large odd depression in the surface. Danny, his bound hands clawing for a finger-hold on the slick rock tumbled after. He kept hold of the edge of the rock for a split moment - just long enough to realize if he went under, he would not come back up. The water closed over his head.
Something had hold of his tattered aloha shirt from the back, the T-Shirt beneath suddenly went tight against his neck and throat, but he was pulled backward against the vacuum-like pull. He got his face out of the water as an arm wrapped under his chin and right arm from behind, still pulling against the powerful drag of the vortex. The spinning water pulled the rope weighted by the 200 pound body tight against his hands, tearing flesh and cutting the circulation.
"I've got you, Danno," Steve's voice assured him. Steve huddled against the rocks trying to keep Danny above the surface with one hand, the rifle ready in the other, gripping the rocks with all his might to keep from being dragged into the water. "Your friends are right behind us," he murmured.
"A knife," Danny gasped.
Steve shook his head. It took all his might to just keep Danny's head above water as the suction and dead weight threatened to pull him in. Steve saw one of the rebels out of the corner of his eye and wondered how long it would be before the Colombian saw them. He tried to move the rifle, but knew he would be unable to aim with any kind of accuracy and still hold onto Danny. He could feel the pulse racing in Danny's neck under the grip of his arm.
Danny tried to pull back to get the rope off his hands, but the drag from the water was so hard, it took all his arm strength to keep from dislocating his shoulders. He could not feel his hands. Any chance of slipping the rope over them had vanished about the time he and Geraldo had hit the water.
There were shouts from the men running down the riverbank, still about a hundred yards away. One fired a shot.
"Let me go," Danny gasped, spitting water. "Save yourself." Above the ringing in his ears he could hear the drill master:
In spite of the desperate moment, Steve cracked a half-smile. "Not a chance." He ducked as a bullet whined off the rock surface beside him. He gripped the rock surface tighter with his knees and turned the rifle in his right hand. He fired one shot in the direction of the approaching men. They scattered for cover under the trees. That just bought us a minute or two. He pulled harder. The only possibility is to pull him out. What then? There is a heavy dead body on that rope. His mind played out the impossible fantasy of shooting through the rope to free Williams, the both of them managing to duck through the rocks and somehow get back to where he's hidden Esteban
a second shot struck the rock much closer than before.
Steve fired a second shot, but as he did, he lost his grip under Danny's arm and Williams slid out of his grasp. Frantically, he grabbed into the water, getting a hold of the edge of the back of the shirt collar, pulling with all his might and fear, staring at Danny, face-up just beneath the surface, mouth open, blue eyes staring back at him through the water, the shirt tight against his throat. The abused shirt collar tore.
Steve twisted the back in the T-shirt into his fist, till it could stretch no more. If he doesn't drown, I'm strangling him. He could see that Danny kept trying to find a foothold, kicking with his feet, but was rapidly losing energy. His face was purple-red.
Having no choice, Steve let go of his weapon by propping it against the rock, and reached down with his other hand. He got a grip under Danny's arm and pulled Danny's head above the surface again. The rifle slid from the rock and splashed into the river and vanished.
Danny was coughing, each cough bringing spasms to his over taxed arm muscles. With two arms around him, Steve was able to keep him out of the water to nearly his shoulders as they huddled against the rock, awaiting what now seemed to be the inevitable. "Let go or we both die," Danny gasped. "Let me go."
Steve gritted his teeth. "I never cared much for being the sole survivor," he answered. Is there anything left I can do?
There was the sudden thundering deep rhythm of whop-whop so intense it vibrated the water around them as a Chinook helicopter seemed to suddenly drop from nowhere, Colombian soldiers in the open doorways firing at will into the trees along the river. The rebels fled back into the cover of trees as the chopper dropped close to the bank, six armed men leaping to the ground and charging after them. Steve and Danny both watched, openmouthed in disbelief as the chopper kicked up whirlwinds of mist and dust. It continued to hover a moment, then another man jumped to the bank. The man in a black suit looked in no way prepared for the jungle and was running across the slippery trail of rocks out into the river towards the two men stranded in the rapids.
Chin did not take time for pleasantries, but upon reaching them, slid down next to Steve, reached out into the frothing water to locate the binding rope and with a mighty sweep, sliced through it the large machete borrowed from the chopper pilot.
The weight instantly fell away and Steve pulled against the greatly reduced vortex feeling elation as Danny came free. They both dropped backward into the rocky outcropping, exhausted, Steve's arms still wrapped around Danny's chest, and lay there, too exhausted to move.
Chin carefully cut the rope away from Danny's bruised and bleeding hands. "You boys okay?"
Steve gazed up at him, totally unable to comprehend how Chin came to be here. "Boys?" He could feel Danny shaking and wondered if he was doing the same.
Chin, ignoring his soaked suit and soggy shoes waved towards the chopper. "Steve, are there others?"
"A baby," he replied, still overwhelmed at both the near disaster and sudden rescue. "On the shoreline he's sick."
Chin squeezed onto the metal bench of the chopper next to Steve.
"We owe you a suit," Steve remarked.
Chin grinned and wrung out the hemline of the jacket. A small stream of water puddled onto the floor. "Good, it was old anyway."
"How did you find us?"
"They found the plane. Two men alive. One in a coma, the other Catava's former body guard. He told them you all were alive. He did not know how you had gone, but thought Catava would have headed over the mountain although it was more dangerous."
Steve blinked in surprise recalling Catava's insistence that they go to the river.
"We took the chopper over the ridge of the mountain and found Catava there."
"Catava went over the mountain?" Steve questioned in unbelief.
"He told us you all had gone to the river. He went back over the mountain hoping to draw the rebels away from you."
Steve shook his head a bit sadly. "He planned it," he muttered. "He got Carlos to go along with it. We were the decoy so he could make his escape over the mountain uninhibited." He wanted to be angry with Catava, could not find the energy to do so.
A Colombian soldier with a first aid kit knelt down to examine Steve's head wound. It seemed like forever since the plane crash that had created the injury. The man started to put peroxide that stung onto the cut. "Usted se sentirá mejor pronto," the soldier offered in comfort. "¿Recuerda usted algo acerca del choque? ¿Había cualquier otros sobrevivientes con usted?"
Steve did not know what he wanted and just looked at him. The chopper suddenly gave a loud whine and with a stomach wrenching jerk shot skyward headed back towards Bogata.
"¿Me puede oír usted?" the medic asked, forgetting his patient did not speak the language he was concerned about medical complications that would make Steve unable to reply. The soldier glanced over at another Colombian. "Quizá él no es muy listo. O quizá él tiene el daño de cerebro."
The second soldier issued a small smile at the medic's questioning Steve's intelligence.
From the depths of the craft came an unexpected response. "El no habla español, usted engaña. El es mi hermano y un héroe. El respeto de la exposición para el hombre que se arriesgó su vida para todos nosotros," Danny, suddenly alert, declared, anger replacing exhaustion in his expression.
A third soldier pushed the other two away angrily. "Many sorry," he issued to Steve in broken English. He waved again at the two soldiers who scrambled back onto their metal seats of the craft. "They no English."
Steve glanced from Danny to Chin and then the new soldier and nodded. He looked back at Danny. "A lot of words to ask for the bathroom. I would have thought we'd both pissed enough back in those rapids to hold us a week."
Danny gave a half smile, leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
Steve touched the arm of the soldier. "What did he say?" He motioned his head towards Danny. It seemed odd to ask a national to interpret what his partner had just said. Partner? I hope so.
The man glanced at Danny then back to Steve. "He said you are a hero. You risked your life. He called you his brother." The man stepped away back to his seat.
Steve looked at Danny, knowing he had heard the exchange. Danny did not move, but Steve noticed the half smile had lingered on his lips.
Steve knew that airlift back to Bogata would not be long and it wasn't. It seemed somehow ironic that it took less that fifteen minutes. We were fifteen minutes from safety. Fifteen minutes - by air anyway. He glanced out of the bay door as Bogata came into view, white against the green jungle. Moments later he picked out the ribbon of runway at the airport. The helicopter hovered momentarily, then zeroed in on the airport terminal. Steve could see several people coming towards them.
"Um, MaryAnn and Clara are here," Chin suddenly announced.
"What?" Steve asked in surprise. "Here? In Colombia?"
He gave a quick nod. "They were worried."
"Of course they were worried, but-" Steve hesitated. He glanced at Danny who had not opened his eyes. He wondered if the junior detective was awake. "Danno."
"I heard," he answered, opened his eyes and sat up a bit straighter, also glancing out of the bay opening. He gave a half smile. "Price you pay for getting into a place crash, huh? They're going to be very emotional."
No kidding. Steve decided giving a response to the obvious was not necessary. For a moment he felt a twinge of guilt at having frightened MaryAnn so badly.
The Chinook settled down lightly onto the runway right outside of the terminal, the pilot cutting the engines almost instantly so that the large rotating blades very quickly came to a halt. By the time Steve and Danny could be helping from the craft, MaryAnn Clara, tailed by a host of media including the Associated Press were upon them.
Chin tried to block the way, permitting only the women through, but was only partially successful.
MaryAnn grabbed her brother in a fierce hug tears springing to her eyes. "I was so frightened for you!" she exclaimed, noting his bandaged head, but choosing not to speak of it. "I thought I'd never see you again." She wept.
Clara embraced her nephew. "I knew you'd be all right, I just knew it," she affirmed, smiling proudly at him. In spite of her more reserved character, she blinked back her tears. "I knew you'd be fine."
She need never know just how close we came to not making it, Danny thought, trying to return her hug, but his arms were so tired, he could barely lift them.
"McGarrett!" The press parted as Catava strode through the group. The ambassador spread his arms wide, a toothy smile across his face. "You are here at last! They find you as I had hoped."
"We aren't all here," Steve replied somberly. "Pedro Ortiz is dead."
"The priest?" Catava blinked in surprise. "A great shame. You see," he added loudly enough for the press to hear, "those rebels are not really of the people; they are just trying to bring their Communist ways here and destroy our good democratic government. They even kill a priest!"
Steve did not see the connection between Ortiz' death and Colombia's government, but let the comment pass. He shot a warning glance towards Williams that told him to do the same.
"This time we get them, McGarrett," Catava continued. "This time they pay."
Catava, you really need to stop talking, Steve thought ruefully.
The ones that were ambushing you, trying to kill you when the soldiers who saved you arrived - our army followed them, found their rebel camp. We sent reinforcements and destroyed the camp."
"You what?" Danny commented, recalling the village of women and children.
Catava smiled for the cameras. "Those rebels will not put fear into other innocent visitors," he declared gesturing towards the southwest where a thin column of blank smoke was rising into the blue sky the other side of the mountain top.
Steve glanced at Danny again. "Not now, Danno," he added quietly.
Williams ignored him. "Rebel camp? What rebel camp. It was a village, Catava - a village of women and children. You blew up a village of innocent people! Those rebels are long gone into the jungle!"
The cameras are rolling, don't embarrass him in front of his people. Steve gripped Danny's elbow fiercely, knowing Williams could not miss the message.
Catava never missed a beat. He shrugged and smile. "My young friend has suffered a great deal. You must excuse him."
"Excuse!" Danny picked out the AP team. "Go there. Get them to take you there! You'll see for yourself!"
By now Steve thought he might twist Williams' elbow off if he did not stop. "Not now," he growled quietly at Danny's side. "That is enough."
Danny's angry gaze met the icy steel blue one of McGarrett, then Danny dropped his eyes.
Catava, a little unnerved by this time nodded placidly to the press. "Yes, when it is safe we will arrange for inspections if anyone would like. Please forgive him. This has been a terrible couple of days for all of us."
Father Ramone stepped forward before anything else could be said, suggesting that the party complete their journey to the mission hospital where they could receive proper care. Steve followed him towards the waiting minibus, leaving Chin to move Williams along.
"Chin," Danny muttered, anxiety on his face. "They don't know -- they have to know. They have to care."
"Danny," Chin murmured, pulling him towards the minibus, "I know it probably is as you say - but it is also already too late."
Danny and Steve had been provided with clean clothes from the stores at the mission. The clothing was poor quality hand-me-downs that were threadbare, but they were clean and dry. Having showered, their wounds were redressed, the two sat side by side on the old stuffed sofa in a parlor of the mission. It was quiet, the stucco walls kept out most of the street noises and the high ceiling and fans kept the temperature at an acceptable level. There was an oriental carpet of subdued colors spread across the hardwood flooring and on the walls were paintings of St. Christopher, the Blessed Virgin, and a crucifix.
Steve was uncomfortable around the icons of his memory, but found himself thinking about Pedro Ortiz. I know that for some people these things provide them foundation and comfort. I would rather rely on the concrete of everyday that I can see, feel and touch, but Ortiz made this all just a little more believable. He was the exception.
The door opened and Father Ramone entered. "The report on Esteban is that he will recover. The mission will attempt to locate his family, but we are told that no one arrived in either Bogata or Mexico for his mother or him. The search will go on, but there may be no family. We will become his family. He will not be abandoned to the streets." He held out his hand and dropped the rosary into Steve's. "I believe Pedro wanted you to keep this. I would like to thank you for being with him in the end."
Steve fingered the beads for a moment, recalling those last moment's of young Pedro's life once again. He put the rosary back into Ramone's hand. "Give them to Esteban. Let him grow up remembering the man who died for him." He remembered Pedro's desire to save souls. "Pedro completed his mission. Maybe it will live on in Esteban."
Father Ramone turned back with a nod. "You would make a fine theologian, McGarrett."
He gave a quiet smile. "My mother thought so, too."
A plane is coming from the United States in the morning to return you and your families to America," Ramone told them. You are welcome to spend the night here at the mission."
"Thank you," Seve replied.
Ramone nodded and left. Silence closed over the parlor once again.
Steve and Danny rested back on the soft pillows of the couch, both gazing up at the cracked and yellowed plaster ceiling.
"Catava made it."
"And he rescued us."
Steve paused. "In a manner of speaking."
"Then he arranges for the murders of a village full of innocents."
Steve did not give a reply.
Danny did not speak again right away, then finally said: "Pedro died. That doesn't seem fair."
"No, it doesn't," he agreed.
"Steve, you know there's an old saying about someone who saves a life."
Steve glanced at him, cocking an eyebrow.
"That the person doing the saving is responsible for the life he saves."
Steve forced a quick grin. "Gee, I've heard that a bit differently. The one saved owes his life to the rescuer and becomes his servant forever."
"Hum," Danny replied and glanced away.
"Either way, I think we're even," Steve concluded. "Unless you'd like us to be responsible for each other and servant to each other for life."
Danny did not reply right away. Yeah, maybe that is just what I want. "Steve."
"When we get back ." He hesitated. "There'st a letter from me on your desk. Don't read it."
"What?" Steve asked in mild curiosity.
"There's a letter. Don't read it."
Steve gazed up at
the ceiling and smiled. "Okay, Bruddah."
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