I was trembling all the way down to my toes. Even the solid strength and warmth of the wall I leaned against was insufficient to steady my whirling thoughts. Rick was kneeling on the red dirt a few feet away with Tanya’s head cradled in his hands. She looked incredibly pale against him, her lips thin, but smiling up at him despite the obvious pain. She had been shot in the stomach, evidenced by the deep dark stains of blood on her shirt and shorts.
Everyone was free from their restraints and most were wandering around in some semblance of shock. The camp was swarming with police officers and in the distance I could hear the sirens of the approaching ambulance. It was too late for one of the mercenaries, I’d killed him with two twitches of my index finger. For Tanya and the other man, there was still a chance to live, largely thanks to the efforts of Patricia.
The police were interviewing everyone, taking statements one at a time and trying to piece together what exactly had happened. If it weren’t for the disabled SAMS on the roof, I think they might have been more inclined to chalk it up to a mass hallucination brought on by the desert heat. Even so, they seemed skeptical about my own actions at best. I could hardly blame them.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Brian asked.
It wasn’t the first time he’d asked since I landed at his feet. I guess my responses were not quite as believable as I wanted them to be. Truthfully, I was far from alright and there was nothing Brian or anyone else could do about it.
“I’m fine.” I replied.
The concern on his face was endearing. All I wanted to do was lay my head against his strong shoulder and feel his arms wrapped around me. It would feel so safe and secure were it not for the still unrevealed identity of the spy at the camp, if there was indeed one at all.
“You were pretty incredible today you know.” He said.
“I just did what I had to do. Anyone would have done the same.”
“Bullshit. We were all in the same position and you were the only one who did anything. Don’t act like it was nothing.”
“If it weren’t for me none of you would have been in danger in the first place.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“You know something I don’t?” I asked.
My breath caught in my throat. I was afraid he was about to confess to being behind everything and I wasn’t sure my heart could take it. Given half a chance I could fall for him, but not if he had anything to do with the mornings events. Some things simply can’t be forgiven. My eyes drifted to the black bag covering the man I’d killed.
“Probably lots, but at least enough to know that none of this was your fault.” Brian said.
He smiled as if that could make all the guilt go away.
“I could have said no.” I said.
“To what? To your job? To your promotion? To this camp? To living? I may not know you that well but you aren’t the type to say no to those things and you shouldn’t have to.”
“Maybe I should have.”
It was the thought in my head. The one shaking me all the way to my core. Mr. Candle had told me it was dangerous and I had shrugged it off. I listened but I didn’t believe him. I thought I could handle whatever danger there was, but this was something I couldn’t handle. It was out of control and to deal with it I went out of control. Brian might be impressed by my actions. Personally, I’m scared to death to know I have that in me.
Brian shook his head at me. I could tell he was frustrated. I could tell he didn’t understand anything going on in my head and how could he? Nobody could know. That was the deal.
“You know what you need?” Brian asked.
“What?” I demanded.
Brian didn’t speak. He just grabbed me and pulled me into his arms. Then he kissed me like he was trying massage my heart with his lips. I fought him for a half second before I decided he was right; It was exactly what I needed. I kissed him back and for a brief moment all the doubt and guilt slipped away and I was just me again. Then he released me.
I backed a step away looking at our feet pointing at each other. I felt the blood rushing to my face and coloring my cheeks which made me even more embarrassed. Brian cleared his throat and reached out to take hold of my hand. I let him hold it.
“I’d like to see you again.” Brian said.
“With or without my towel?” I asked.
“Definitely without.” He replied.
We both laughed enjoying a lighter moment and wishing nothing worse than those embarrassing moments had come to pass at Bad Land.
“I’d like that too.” I said.
He took a pen from his shirt pocket and wrote his digits down on the palm of my hand. I felt like I was back in high school watching him do it. My breath was short, my heart was pounding and I knew the first thing I’d do when I got home was pick up the phone and call.
Brian walked away leaving me to my muddled thoughts. The ambulance took Tanya and our wounded mercenary away. Rick stayed much to my surprise. As the dust settled in the ambulance’s wake he walked over to me. He held his hand out to me and I took it, meeting his eyes. They were filled with a mixture of concern and gratitude.
“Thank you Virginia.” Rick said.
“I don’t think I did anything special, but you’re welcome.” I said.
“I may have taught you to survive this week but apparently we still need to work on your manners.” He said.
I raised my eyebrow at him.
“Obviously, you could learn a thing or two about being gracious.” Rick said.
“I’m sorry. Really, I guess I’m still just a little surprised at myself.” I said.
Rick laughed at me.
“You’ve been walking around here all week like you’ve had something to prove to everyone and now that you have, you are surprised? Look kid, you were born for this kind of thing and at least part of you knows that.” Rick said
“I guess the question is which part.” I replied.
“You’ll have to figure that out for yourself.” Rick said.
I nodded in agreement. I’m starting to think Virginia really isn’t so different from me though. I mean I thought I was just doing what Virginia would do, but the thing is, at some point it was just me. Virginia may not have been able to just leave everyone behind, but neither could I. We just aren’t all that different in the end and I guess that’s because, like it or not, I am Virginia and Virginia is me.
“Did you ever find out who your spy was?” Rick asked.
“No. We are still working on it, but I’m not sure it matters anymore.” I said.
“I’d feel better knowing. I really don’t want to wake up to another nightmare tomorrow.”
“I’ll check and see if there is anything new.” I said.
“Thanks.” Rick said.
He made his way off to speak with a few others. Patricia was first I saw. It was only natural since she had probably saved Tanya’s life. I pulled out my phone and called Mr. Candle while I was being left alone again.
“Any news?” I asked.
“We tracked the helicopter to an E.F. Burke & Sons hangar. Given that and the information you supplied us with, Olivia Stratford is the most likely candidate for our spy. However it is hardly conclusive proof and while she may have been sent there to monitor you directly it’s quite possible someone else was the original receiver of the files. I think it best to leave matters be unless she makes a move against you which seems unlikely.”
I nodded and then realized he couldn’t see me.
“I agree. By this time tomorrow I’ll be back home in LA and come Monday we can decide what to do about all this.” I said.
“I will see you Monday morning then.” Mr. Candle said.
“Monday morning, then. Goodnight.” I said.
It was getting dark and the perimeter lights were flickering on. I motioned to Rick to get a private moment with him. It took a few minutes but he extricated himself and we rendezvoused around the backside of the main building.
“We have a likely candidate on the spy, but we would prefer not alert them to our knowledge.” I said.
“I don’t understand. Why would we not want to turn this person over to the police right now?”
“First off, our evidence is on the thin side and second, by allowing them to get away they could lead us to a better understanding of precisely what is going on.” I said.
A sharp click behind me made me whirl around. I should have known better than to go off someplace secluded, but hindsight is always crystal clear. Olivia was standing there, gun in hand, looking like nothing would make her happier than to shoot both of us where we stood.
“You really don’t have a clue what is going on here do you?” Olivia said.
“No, not really.” I replied.
There was a barely contained sigh in my voice. I was tempted to rush her and make a grab for the loosely held gun in her hand, but I’m pretty sure incompetence is just part of her act.
“I’ve always said it’s the brunettes that are the real idiots. What do you think Rick? Is Virginia really as dumb as she looks?” Olivia said.
“It doesn’t have to be like this Olivia.” Rick said.
“I’m afraid it does.” Olivia said. “Joseph Candle has something that belongs to my employer and now I have something that belongs to him.”
“I don’t belong to anyone.” I said.
Olivia had the audacity to laugh.
“Joseph Candle owns you like other people would own a car. The only question is whether he values your life more than he values his little treasures. For your sake, you better hope he does.” Olivia said.
“You might as well just pull the trigger because there is no way Mr. Candle is going to negotiate with you.” I said.
At first I thought she might just do it, but then I realized with the police still swarming around in the camp she was as much a hostage as we were. Olivia was bluffing her way into an escape attempt and she’d almost pulled me into her delusion.
“I didn’t think so.” I said.
I stepped right up to the muzzle of the gun and stared her straight in the eye. I should have been worried, but I was too tired to care. Rick was right behind me which made us either both completely insane or dead right.
I place my hand on the barrel of the gun and tried to pull it out of her hand. She responded by jerking it away and slapping it hard across my face. I staggered and nearly fell to the ground caught off guard by the sudden move. My eye started swelling instantly and my vision blurred.
Rick didn’t let Olivia have a chance though. He jumped her and knocked the gun from her hands. An instant later Olivia was pinned to the dirt beneath Rick and we were surrounded by police officers. It didn’t take long to explain what had happened. Olivia was cuffed and locked in the back of a squad car.
Brian brought me ice for my eye while I called Mr. Candle and informed him of the new development. He was far from happy at the latest news, but I also got the feeling that there was some truth to Olivia’s accusations. I suppose time will tell where the truth lies, but I’m not blindly following anyone.