139 - Rome
PRESENT DAY I turned back into the truck. One of the guards–the one in the ordinary uniform–was still unconscious, the other in his black armor was sitting there as if he hadn’t a care in the world, despite the gun held on him by Father Antonio.
And of course, what care did he have? He knew exactly where we were and what’s more, he knew that we didn’t.
I turned to him, trying to a burgeoning anger out of my voice. “Where are we?” I halfway succeeded.
He just looked at me for a few seconds, then to my utter surprise, he started to smile. He actually started to smile at me.
“He can’t understand you,” Father Antonio said, his voice soft, “remember?”
“Oh. Right.” This was the one that was at least pretending not to understand English. “Care to translate?”
He opened his mouth, looking about to say something, but then shut it again. He shook his head before opening it again. “Of course.” He turned to the other man and said something in what I assumed was Italian.
The man facing him just smiled, not saying a word.
“Can you… threaten him or something?” I asked.
Father Antonio turned to stare at me. I noticed that the gun dropped each time he did, pointing at the man in armor’s feet rather than his knees. I briefly wondered if his feet were armored as well. “Father Thomas. Despite all that has happened, do not forget who you are.”
I felt as if I had been slapped. He had a point… I could see that much, but was this really the time for it? We were… God only knew were, having been kidnapped by God only knew who. We needed answers and we needed them now.
I turned away from Father Antonio and took a few steps towards the man in his armor. I knew that I was between him and the gun now, but in all likelihood that hadn’t been what had been keeping him in his seat anyways. He had just stayed because he had known what was going on.
I got right into the man in armor’s face and dropped my voice. I doubted anyone other than the two of us could have understood what I was saying.
“Let me tell you what I think. I think that you can understand me. I don’t know if you can actually speak English or not, but I doubt you’d be hear if you couldn’t understand me.”
I wasn’t sure that was entirely true, but I was operating under the assumption that they had been sent to that square for a reason. He was watching me intently though and didn’t look quite as perplexed as he had a moment before. The smile was fading as well.
“So here’s how this is going to work out. You’re going to answer my questions. If you don’t, I’m going to take that gun back from Father Antonio and I’m going to use it on you. Not kneecaps either.”
I backed away. His smile was gone now. Even if he hadn’t understood the words, I hoped the tone would have conveyed the gist to him.
I turned back to Father Antonio. He was staring at me as well. I realized that the other two that had been kidnapped with me were as well. They couldn’t have heard, could they?
No time to worry.
I looked Father Antonio directly in the eyes.
“Ask him again.”
140 - Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO I looked back over my shoulders. My Sergeant and the other men were all standing back there, an impressive amount of weaponry covering the room. I knew there were only a few reasons they hadn’t opened fire already, and my standing there was one of them.
Turning back to Mr. Average, I said, “and why exactly would I want to do that?” After all, if things went sideways, I was sure that he wouldn’t walk out of the room either.
“Because you want to know. Even with that cross you bear, you have a burning desire for knowledge.”
I wanted to object to his characterization of the priesthood, but it didn’t seem either the time or the place for it.
“Not to mention,” he continued, “that I have all of the power here.” He glanced behind me and shook his head as if to dismiss each and every one of the men and guns out in the hallway.
The way that he said it sent a chill up my spine. He just sounded so confident.
“Fine.” I said. “But you have to let me check on Amira first.”
He raised an eyebrow. “The girl?” He looked back at her himself, the way he turned to look subtly wrong somehow. “That’s … unexpected.” He paused, looking back and forth between the two of us. “I would have thought …” I hadn’t seen him surprised before. I wasn’t sure that it was an improvement. “Deal.”
He back against one wall, raising an arm as if to say after you.
He was right–I did want answers–but at the moment, that wasn’t the priority. I pushed past him, leaning down over Amira.
Honestly, she looked terrible. I would have never said it to her face, but she was unconcious at the moment anyways. And I could tell that now, without even having to check for a pulse. From this angle, I could see the rise and fall of her chest, slow but steady. The IV was slowly pumping some foul concoction into her veins, but at least so far as I could tell they didnt’ appear to be doing her any obvious harm.
Her face and arms were covered in bruises though and I saw several nasty looking scrapes that needed to be looked at by a doctor.
Heck, it looked like I’d gotten lucky by getting shot.
I had to smile though. Those marks told me one thing loud and clear–she had fought like hell to get away from the men that had taken her.
“See?” Mr. Average’s voice came from entirely too close behind me. I could feel warm breath on my neck. “She’s quite all right. You have nothing to fear from me.”
I resisted jumping, but I couldn’t keep an edge of anger out of my voice. “Fine? You call this fine? She needs a doctor. She needs a hospital.”
He shook his head, slightly. “Eventually, that will be true. But at the moment, she is in no danger.” He seemed almost puzzled by my concern. I caught his eyes flickering to the IV standing beside the two of us.
“Okay, you said that you’d answer my questions.” I stood, not waiting for him to get out of the way, hoping that I’d get the chance to shove against him. No such luck, he sort of shrugged out of the way with that same subtly wrong fluid grace. “First question: what is that stuff?”
I didn’t have to specify what I meant. We both knew exactly what I was talking about. “You don’t want to know,” he said. His voice was completely level. “Suffice it to say, it has the ability to keep her alive and healthy indefinitely.”
I heard a faint whistle coming from one of the men out in the hall and looked out at them. In the rush of seeing Amira there like that, I’d almost managed to forget about them. They looked as ready as they ever had, each in position, but I could see that the Sergeant was studying me carefully. I felt like I could almost read his mind. ‘The ball’s in your court now Padre. Don’t screw this up.’
141 - Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO “Fine. It will keep her alive. If you’re not going to answer that, then what should I be asking?”
He actually smiled at that, although I couldn’t have said if the smile was genuine. Like everything else he did, it seemed just slightly off, out of focus.
“Now that is an excellent question,” he said. “But that would take all the fun out of the situation.”
“You demented…” I couldn’t get the words out. “This is not fun.” I took several steps back and heard the gratifying sound of the men in the doorway shifting. Just as I’d hoped.
“Oh, but it is,” he said, “In fact, I’d say it’s of the utmost importance. A matter of life and death, as it were.” The words had the feel of an inside joke, something with layers of meaning that I could understand if only I were paying a bit more attention. But the way he said it… it was as flat and utterly dry as anything else he said.
Suddenly, I heard a voice crackle to life in my ear. “Mind speeding this up a bit padre?” I jerked then looked towards the door. The Sergeant was talking to his cuff. I’d almost forgotten the wireless units each of us had. With how close all of us were, it hadn’t really been important until just this moment.
I realized that I was standing there with my mouth open and abruptly shut it. I couldn’t tell if Mr. Average had noticed anything out of the ordinary, his face was as maddeningly blank as it always was.
Nodding, hoping that both Mr. Average and the Sergeant would take it as a response to them personally, I said, “well if you won’t give me a question to ask and you won’t answer the ones that I do, it seems like we’re just going to have find another way out of this.”
I casually reached up to the collar of my jacket and ran a finger over the edge of the bullet proof jacket just under there. Thank God I’d been given another. I could only Pray that the Sergeant would understand what I was implying.
And that I wasn’t completely mad for suggesting it.
“You’re nuts,” I heard the Sergeant over my earpieces loud and clear. So much for that theory. “But I think you’ve got a point.” I heard him giving the order to the rest of the men. “On your word,” he finished. “And may God have mercy on your soul.”
I was surprised at his sentiment, but it was welcome nevertheless. “Amen,” I said under my breath. I started to slowly circle the room, putting myself between Mr. Average and Amira. Hopefully he wouldn’t suspect anything until it was too late. “Okay, fine then. The last time we met, you said something about artifacts. What about those? Anything I should be asking?”
Consciously or not, the other man had started circling with me. His back was to the men with the guns now, but he seemed as unperturbed by that as he ever had. Which seemed even more mad than I was. Bullet proof armor wasn’t exactly bullet proof, particularly not at this range. The most I was hoping for was to slow them down. As close as he was, even that wouldn’t be enough.
“Now you’re on the right track,” he said. That faint smile that didn’t reach up to his eyes came back. “Unfortunately for you, I no longer need your assistant in that particular matter.” He started to reach into the breast pocket of his suit jacket.
I wasn’t going to have a better opportunity than that.
“Now!” I yelled. I dived towards the back of the room, throwing myself over Amira’s still form. I knew I only had a matter of moments until the men out in the hallway opened fire. All I could do now was pray that the body armor would be enough to protect the both of us from any errant rounds.