2130 words today, took way too long (4 hours.) The apathy is already setting in…
The first thing Lance thought when he scrambled out of the van with one wheel encroaching on the curb was, what am I going to tell Kimberly? Kimberly Smith wasn’t a field agent, or even a member of Lance’s task force, but she and Teresa had grown quite close lately.
The next thought was more of a promise about what he would do to those responsible for what happened to Teresa.
“I want this block locked down,” Lance bellowed.
He seized the vest proffered by the SWAT commander turned navigator was using to bar him from charging up the steps of a random building, or questioning people on the streets. Lance was normally an even-keeled person, but the situation with Teresa has him going off “half cocked” as they say. Lance struggled into his vest one-handed, the other still clinging to the cellphone that had been his only link to Teresa. He didn’t know if her calling again would help, but the prospect of hearing her voice again filled him with hope.
“Which building, Colonel Bishop?” one of the SWAT team members asked.
The row of buildings was daunting. Aging brownstones had been condemned in an eminent domain proceeding. The project had been blocked on all front, as some of the wealthiest people in the city owned and lived in these buildings. Historical societies, action committees, petitioners, and even the local news caused the intended project for this block of buildings to be indefinitely postponed, the funds for completing it drained fighting multiple lawsuits. What was once an affluent neighborhood was now abandoned decay.
Somewhere in one of those languished and forgotten buildings, was Teresa.
Lance ran his free hand down the front of his Kevlar vest, verifying the plates were positioned properly. His eyes swept the row of five-story brownstones. Five or six rooms each floor, he thought. Six buildings times five floors times… “Shit,” he concluded out loud.
“Colonel?” The SWAT commander stood at his elbow. “Which one? Did your agent call back?”
“No,” Lance replied, his jaw set, eyebrows furrowed. He opened a Velcro flap and inserted his cellphone into a pocket. He shrugged his shoulders, and stepped forward.
“Stop! Federal agent!”
Lance’s head snapped to the commotion to see two SWAT members giving chase to two figures materializing between two of the buildings. Like greyhounds chasing a rabbit, the seasoned professionals gave chase. Lance tensed to join them, but he knew he was too far away to offer any meaningful assistance. Besides, his task was to find Teresa. He returned his attention to the pair of buildings straddling the alley the figures had emerged from.
“Commander,” Lance said, “I want you to lead a team into the building on the left, and I’ll take the rest to the building on the right.”
* * *
Lance pressed his back against the wall next to the main entrance. A rat skittered from a hole in broken brown brick. Lance made a face, and jerked his foot away from the exposed nest. He stabbed his chest with two fingers extended, then into the air above his head. The SWAT officer beside him nodded, pointing a single finger to himself and them the floor.
“One,” Lance mouthed silently.
The SWAT officer crouched, and bounced on the balls of his feet.
“Two,” Their arms tensed, Lance tilting his head first to the right, then to the left with matching cracks.
In a fluid motion, they entered a long hallway, Lance high, and the SWAT officer low. They led with their muzzles, and as silent as ghosts, they leap-frogged each other, nods and hand signals directing their movements. Resting in doorways, they systematically cleared each room as they moved deeper into the building. It was a textbook maneuver, but Lance couldn’t keep the anxiety out of his step.
White patches adorned the paint on the wall. Lance wondered what this hallway looked like in its heyday. Now, peeling wallpaper and chipped paint were all he could see in narrow beam of light his tactical weapon provided. Lance eyed white lines that cut into once pristine expensive carpet, disturbed dust on either side obvious even without focusing his light on it.
Lance froze, ice chilling his veins. Something had been dragged down the hall, he thought, and he refused to acknowledge what the feeling in his gut told revealed. The drag marks and disheveled carpet led to the last door, but procedure required all rooms be cleared in order. It was a disturbing countdown, each scanning the rooms on their side of the hallway. One by one the rooms were dismissed, their stride quick and efficient, until they reached the final door.
That’s when the permeating smell wafted from under a gap at the bottom of the door. Lance wrinkled his nose, the coppery odor stinking his eyes. He set his jaw, reached out to the door, and looked to his partner. The SWAT officer nodded before he kicked down the door.
At first blush, all Lance saw was the body. He flexed his knees to keep himself upright, and forced himself to focus. Blonde hair, brown eyes, square jaw…
“It’s not Teresa,” Lance whispered. He grimaced when his eyes fell on the bloody tableau.
Lance pushed aside a bloody knife with the muzzle of his weapon. Teresa said it wasn’t her blood, he thought. He spied a blue scarf he had seen Teresa wearing earlier that day. The now stiff banner of silk was peeking out from beneath the dead body. Lance averted his eyes with a slight shudder.
“Get a crime scene unit here,” he spoke to his SWAT partner, as the tension in his shoulders abated. He withdrew his cellphone, and the unique sound of Velcro separating jarred him from his state of shock. “We need to search more buildings.”
The SWAT officer nodded both to Lance, and to whoever was speaking in her ear. “Second SWAT team en route,” he declared, removing his fingers from his earpiece.
“Have the coroner give a preliminary on this,” he motioned toward the grim scene on the bed. “I want an update on the men that pursued those suspects.”
The SWAT member nodded and placed fingers against his throat mic, whispering – his fingers moving back and forth from mic to earpiece.
The SWAT member met Lance’s eyes, holstered his weapon, and walked out of the room. Lance removed his earpiece, ignoring the cacophony of traffic as the remaining floors were cleared. No sign of Teresa was found in these two buildings. Lance scrolled to the top of the “recent” list on his cellphone, and gritted his teeth as the call connected.
“Teresa,” he said urgently into his cellphone, “where are you?”
He surveyed the room. He was transfixed on the body. Vacant eyes stared out at him, and the mouth was agape as if it was about to reveal a secret.
He felt a tremble in his legs, and staggered back a step, but didn’t touch anything to steady himself, lest he contaminate the crime scene.
“What’s your status,” he demanded. He couldn’t figure out why his voice sounded sharper, especially since the numbness he felt in his chest had melted slightly at the sound of Teresa’s voice. “Where the hell are you?”
The silence caused his eye to twitch. He heard shallow breathing and a terse swallow.
Not good, damn it, not good, he closed his eyes, forcing the mantra to stop. Teresa’s voice was fading.
He forced a smile, and replied, trying to keep the mood light. “You called me Teresa, and I’m here.” He swallowed, but the lump in his throat was a permanent resident. “I know I told you to hide, and you’re doing a helluva job, but I need to find you. I’ve got a reputation to maintain.”
The shallow breathing in the cellphone paused and slowed.
“Come on, Teresa,” Lance coaxed. “Where…”
Lance frowned, and furrowed his brow. The sharpness in his voice was bordering on an odd echo. He held the cellphone out. Full bars, he thought, why… He took a step back, and heard the floor creak under his foot. He shifted his weight, this time with the cellphone pressed against his ear. He heard the creak in the tiny speaker.
It wasn’t an echo.
He looked toward the open closet. There was no where to hide in there.
Lance returned to the squeaky floorboard again. The creak sounded in the room and over the phone again. His eyes wandered over the bed. He regarded the bed skirt, and lifted it with his booted toe. A muffled gasp sounded in his ear.
Gingerly, Lance stooped and looked into the narrow space below the bed.
How the hell?
He peered into the darkness, but only found murkiness. He tapped an icon on his screen, it shone to full brilliance. He rotated the screen until he briefly saw a face before something dark obscured it.
He lay on the floor, and reached under the bed. Sounds of Teresa trying to wedge herself against the wall stayed his advance.
“Teresa…” Lance whispered into the cellphone. He thought it odd to hear himself with a slight delay as he spoke.
He returned his earpiece, and fingered his throat mic. “I’ve found her, all personnel are to withdrawal, and get me an ambulance.
He heard a snort from under the bed.
“Ha, ha,” he spoke into the darkness, is earpiece dangling again. “I know, I know, Lance Bishop ordering an ambulance.” He hoped the emphasis put the frightened woman at ease.
“Come on, Teresa.” He stretched, and wedged his shoulder into the narrow void. His fingers brushed her, and she jerked away.
He had an idea where Teresa was, and shadows played across his eyes as Teresa shifted behind her camouflage. His arm and shoulder screamed at the contortions he performed, keeping his palm against the dusty floor.
“It’s me, Lance,” he coaxed in a whisper.
He felt shaky chilled fingers drifting across his hand.
“I’m going to turn my hand over,” he spoke in placating tones, “try to grab my wrist.”
Lance waited the tense moments as Teresa’s cold fingers curled around his wrist. His forearm, bicep, and pectoral muscles screamed in protest, but the rapid purse he felt through Teresa’s wrist demanded he endure a little more discomfort. He felt her pulse spike when he gently pulled on her arm.
Teresa’s head and shoulders cleared the bed, shaking and silent. When Lance saw her wide eyes, and blown pupils, her odd behavior suddenly made sense. The explanation didn’t make him feel any better.
“Take it easy, now,” he soothed as he pulled Teresa from under the bed. He stared at the blotches and runoffs of blood covering Teresa’s exposed skin, but couldn’t find a wound. His eyes darted to the body on the bed, but he averted his gaze when Teresa started to follow his line of sight.
Teresa sat, leaning against Lance. Her quaking transferred to his stressed shoulder. He swallowed a wince, and focused on making quiet reassuring sounds. Her teeth chattered, and he examined her for injuries she couldn’t identify in her current state. The hand that gripped his was purple and swollen, and she clutched it protectively against her abdomen. The other gripped a cellphone so tightly, her knuckles were as white as her pale face. She recoiled violently when Lance tried to take the phone from her.
“Are you hurt anywhere?” Lance asked, the whisper barely audible over Teresa’s clattering teeth.
Teresa shook her head, and started to fade for a moment. Her head snapped up when she heard a pair of footsteps outside the bedroom.
The footsteps belonged to the SWAT commander, and a man dressed in zippered white overalls. The commander looked at Lance, then to Teresa, and led his companion by the elbow out of the room.
“I need to see the body,” the man started to protest.
“Not now,” the SWAT commander interrupted flatly.
After a moment, The SWAT commander reappeared at the doorway. The ambulance is a few minutes away. He didn’t breach the threshold, but did place a zippered jacket onto the floor.
Lance pulled the jacket over Teresa’s shoulders. The shivering didn’t stop, but Teresa’s fingers curled around the nylon, and she pulled it closer.
“You’re going to be okay,” Lance murmured into the tangled, sweat-matted brown hair. Teresa nodded, her chin stabbing Lance’s shoulder. He absently rubbed his free hand up and down her back, trying to reassure her, and rub out the tremors he felt from her.
“What happened?” Teresa stuttered, as the growing sound of a siren abruptly stopped.
Lance lifted her chin, and looked into her eyes, still unable to focus. “That’s what we’re gonna find out.”