Very, Very Carefully
Steve had finished one bottle of water and half of the other when the lock rattled and the door opened. John hastily arranged himself in a position from which he could easily spring up. As before, one of the guards came in with his gun ready, making sure it was safe, before the second one came in with his gun merely slung over his shoulder. He glanced down to the tray, then over to Steve, then pointed at the bottle she still held and snapped his fingers. Already trembling, she swallowed hard and extended it to him. John watched as the guard ran his fingers down Steve's arm, making her shudder even more, before taking the bottle from her hand. The guard put the bottle on the tray, scooted the tray towards the door, then came back and knelt down in front of Steve.
"No, no, no," Steve panted, glancing imploringly towards John as the man stroked her hair. John risked a glance at the other guard and noticed more than one physical sign of how the man was getting caught up in what his mate was doing.
"No! Andy, please! You said—!" Steve's cries were cut off by the guard slapping his hand over her mouth and pushing her backwards onto the mattress. Steve shook her head violently, trying to get free. Gritting his teeth against the muffled sounds emanating from her throat, John waited as the guard lowered his gun a little, and then a little farther.
"Hey," John finally said. He had to say it again to catch the man's attention. "Hey, you want some of that?"
He rolled onto his hands and one knee, keeping one foot on the floor, his face over the slops bucket and his backside presented to the guard. He'd often been nude, but he'd never felt so naked before, so completely and totally vulnerable. Swallowing, he tried to keep his voice under control and pretend he was soliciting his wife as he glanced over his shoulder. "Hey, come on, mate. Didn't they tell you how I like it?"
The guard gaped at him for a moment, and then his face turned sly as he glanced over his shoulder. After making sure that the other man was not in a position to object, he slung his gunstrap over his shoulder, then reached for his trousers.
"No!" Steve screamed, having freed her mouth for a moment. "NO!" But her second scream was cut off in the middle by the man on top of her.
John waited until his guard had obviously forgotten all caution, then spun around, using his left hand to throw the contents of the slops bucket directly towards the man's face. The man cried out in shock and disgust, staggering backwards, and John grabbed him, pulled him down, and snapped his neck in one continuous movement. Intent on what he was doing, the second guard barely had time to realize that something was happening and try to get up, before John had come up behind him. He broke that guard's neck, too, then lowered the body to the floor away from Steve, who was staring up at him in shock. Sliding the machine gun off the man's arm, he extended it to her and said, "Sit up and shoot anybody that comes in."
Wide-eyed, she took the gun and wrestled herself obediently upright, stifling the usual sounds of pain. John quickly found the key to the manacles and unlocked himself first, then Steve, interrupting her in the midst of trying to button up her shirt again.
"Don't worry about that now," he said. "We need to get out of here."
She made to give the machine gun back, but he shook his head and said quietly, "You keep that one."
He bent down and took the other gun, then crossed to the open door, flattened himself to one side of it, and glanced out in both directions. The hallway was clear. Stepping back in, he bent over Steve and said, "I'll get you out of here. Just trust me and do what I say, all right?"
Steve nodded, then took the hand that he extended to her and got to her feet, groaning only once. John made no attempt to shush her, certain that the sound would let anybody else in the house think that the rape was still going on. He went back to the door, checked the hall again, then grasped Steve's arm just above the elbow and led her out. Once in the hall, he pulled the door shut behind him, but didn't linger to lock it again. Instead, he glanced down the hall to the kitchen and dining area and winced inwardly. All the guards were there, sitting around the table.
Silently, John pulled Steve into the next room and pushed the door shut behind them. It was the room with the whipping frame, and when she saw it, Steve let out a cry of dismay.
"We need to get outside," John said as he led her across the room to the window. "Just think about outside."
The window slid open sideways, but the opening was blocked by an insect screen. John kicked it out with his heel, cringing as the metal frame clattered to the concrete below, but not stopping to see if anybody had heard. Once he'd clamboured out, he turned back to help Steve. She gripped his hand and lifted her leg slightly to climb over the sill, then winced and put it down again.
"Hurts," she hissed.
"Come here," John said, leaning in and grabbing her around the waist. She stiffened, flinching instinctively away, but he forced her over his shoulder and manoeuvered her out through the window. He was just about to lower her to her feet when there came a shout from inside the room. Keeping Steve on his shoulder, John raced along the side of the house and rounded the corner before setting her down. She wobbled unsteadily for a moment and he kept his arms around her until she'd found her balance, then straightened up.
"All right?" John whispered.
"Yeah," she whispered back.
"Then come on!" He grabbed her hand and raced away from the house, pulling her along. They crossed the terrace and went down three steps to where the pool was. Nobody was swimming, but the underwater lights were on, illuminating the area enough for them to easily avoid the lounge chairs and tables as they made their way to the equipment shed. Once they'd hidden themselves on the far side of it, John crouched down and glanced back. They'd been just in time; the guards had exited the house and were starting to fan out, checking the area.
John ducked back and considered his options. From their vantage point, he could see the wall around the estate. It was about eight feet tall, concrete, and topped with long spikes at regular intervals. The only way out was through the gate.
"Stay here and keep watch," he told Steve. She nodded, and he dashed over to the cover of a nearby tree to get a better look at the gate. From his new vantage point, he could see a guard in front of the well-lit gate, and an electronic control box. The gate itself was the kind that slid sideways along a track, and from what he could see, a normal van would not be able to ram it open, even if he could commandeer the vehicle and get it started before the guards caught them. If he could take the guard prisoner, though, he might be able to get the gate open. At the very least, it would buy them time. Even a few more minutes would allow the satellite to pick up the quantum dots in his hair and transmit his location so that the rescue team could come in.
John was just about to collect Steve and implement his new plan when she cried out suddenly in pain. A voice called out, "Mister Walbreck! Give yourself up, or I will shoot Alexandra's kneecap off!"
"No, please, no!" Steve cried. She was standing half in the shadow of the equipment shed, and half in the light thrown by the swimming pool, and John could just make out that somebody was standing behind her, holding her with an arm around her neck, and pointing the muzzle of a gun at her knee.
"Put the gun down, Mister Walbreck!" the guard instructed. "Come out with your hands up."
John laid the machine gun on the ground and pushed it away with his foot, then placed his hands on top of his head. Hoping to increase his time outside, however, he came forward into the open and stopped. Two guards converged on him from behind, and one clubbed him in the back with the butt of his gun, hitting him right in the middle of a welt. He went down on hands and knees with a grunt of pain.
"Mister Walbreck," said the guard who was holding Steve. "You killed two of our friends. We should kill you for that, but for now, we will simply make you wish you were dead."
John immediately tried to get up again, but the gun connected forcefully with his shoulder blade and forced him down again. One of the guards came around in front of him, removed the belt from his trousers, and wrapped it around each of John's wrists before twisting it around both of them together and finally taking both ends of it in his own hand. John expected him to drag him back inside, and cried out in surprise and then pain when the man pulled his hands down to the ground and knelt directly on top of them.
"No," Steve whispered, and with a sudden, sick feeling in his gut, John knew exactly what was going to happen next. Not caring any longer about whether he was outside or whether the satellite could pick up his glow-in-the-dark hair, he let out a bellow of inarticulate rage and tried to heave both himself and the guard upright. The man behind him lashed out with his gun a third time, and the man holding Steve said, "I will shoot her. Three … two …"
With a grimace, John relented, and the countdown stopped.
"You shut your eyes, you think of England," commanded one of the men behind him, and the others laughed.
When it was finally, finally over, when they finally released him, John collapsed sideways, gasping for air. He'd vomited from sheer agony, nearly choking on it, and now all he wanted to do was lie there and breathe. A stray trace of vomit in his throat made him cough, and the movement sent a renewed wave of pain through his entire body. He groaned, and to his own ears, it sounded like a wounded animal, like no other sound he'd ever made before.
Something landed in the grass near his face, and he froze before he recognized it. It was a used condom, and both the sight and the smell made him retch again. The guard was laughing at his reaction, especially since there were other used condoms on the lawn around him, but all he could do now was try to breathe. And breathe. And breathe again. And cough. To say it hurt was the understatement of the year. He wanted to pass out, but he didn't; he just lay there, breathing and trying not to cough again, or even move.
From far away, there came the sound of shots, and shouts. There was movement around him, and something else thudded into the grass near his face. It was Steve. One part of his mind said that he should throw himself onto her, protect her from danger, but his body refused to move. All he could do was breathe. She was protecting herself, anyway, covering her head with her arms. Eventually, the shooting stopped, along with most of the shouting. Steve uncurled slightly and looked over at him. Very slowly, she reached out and laid her hand on top of his. He froze again, and it took a moment before he realized that she was not a threat, and that her touch actually felt good.
"Miss Kehoe! Sergeant Porter! I need a medic here!" The shout was very loud and very near, and this time both John and Steve flinched. The soldier went down on one knee next to Steve, and John watched her curl up again, pulling her hand away from his in order to hide her face.
"Miss Kehoe," the soldier repeated softly, and then he reached out and touched her arm. "Alexandra?"
Adrenalin surged through John, erasing every ache and pain he felt and replacing it with fury and the desire to lash out. Before he knew it, he was on his feet, leaping over Steve and hitting the soldier in the face despite his bound hands.
"You don't touch her!" John bellowed.
The man staggered backwards and John kicked him where he knew it would hurt the most. He was about to do more, but someone grabbed him from behind and hauled him backwards. The feeling of hands – male hands – on his skin enraged John even more, and he thrashed wildly, nearly escaping. Then yet another man tackled him at the knees and he went down, two men falling on top of him and pinning him to the grass.
Although John could hear various shouts of "Sergeant Porter!" and even one of "John!" he didn't listen. He just kept struggling, trying to shake off the two men and get up again. Then the shouting changed to "Hold him down, hold him steady!" and he felt the sharp prick of a needle in his buttock. A moment later, all the strength drained abruptly from his body, and darkness flooded in to take its place.