Jack heard them coming.
He had some vague feeling that it was near dawn, but he had long ago lost any true sense of time. He assumed it must be dawn, however. Wasn’t that the cliché of when the guards always came to take the condemned prisoner to his just rewards? The irony of it was so blatant Jack wanted to laugh out loud. He wanted to, but he was afraid if he started he wouldn’t stop until all the other bottled emotions he was trying desperately to hold back burst loose from their fragile bindings. It was better not to laugh and leave a fissure he might not be able to seal. In the end he found he couldn’t even smile.
Up until that moment Jack hadn’t been sure there were more than the two guards who Vicente had used during the interrogation sessions. He didn’t bother to count, but it seemed there had to be close to a dozen outside his cell, all armed to the teeth.
Can we spell overkill? Who where these guys trying to kid? The two guards had handled things quite well before, thanks all the same.
And then suddenly a thought hit him broadside. Maybe there had been a failed rescue attempt and he had been unaware of it. Maybe that was the reason for the sudden over-abundance of soldiers. It made sense, too damn much sense.
Farmers and laborers attacking a secure jail filled with trained heavily-armed soldiers. Talk about David and Goliath. Frank had to be out of his fucking mind to try something that ludicrous and yet Jack knew there was no doubt he would do just that.
It was the Alamo all over again, except he’d bet a month’s pay this stupid war didn’t have any cool slogans to cling to and rally the troops.
‘Remember the Alamo.’
‘Sandinista Soldiers Suck.’
It had possibilities. It had a nice ring to it. He’d have to share it with ‘Mark’ when they got back. ‘Mark’ would appreciate it.
‘Yeah right, Jack.’ The chances of ever seeing ‘Mark’ again were making the 40 watt bulb look bright.
He lay silently watching on his hard bunk, the prey lying in frozen desperation, hoping that through immobility somehow the predator will over-look him just this once.
Please God let it happen just this once.
But of course it didn’t. And as two of the soldiers unlocked the door and jerked Jack to his feet, ignoring the gasp of pain he couldn’t hide, he knew there would be no rescue, divine or otherwise.
Heavy handcuffs were locked tightly around his wrists, sending fire shooting through his damaged elbow and arm. Jack was forced to roll his shoulder forward awkwardly as he tried to alleviate some of the pressure on the limb. It helped some, but not nearly enough.
As if he hadn’t felt his loss of control enough, the handcuffs punctuated the fact that Jack’s life was no longer his own.
Panic shot through him, and yet years of training and sheer iron-will held him tight, just as the chains that bound his wrists.
Before he was even able to begin to fight back the pain, the guards had fastened cuffs around his bare ankles and pulled him from the cell where he was immediately surrounded by the mob of soldiers.
The hub of a tire.
The hole of a donut.
The bull’s-eye of a target.
Jack found it nearly impossible to move. His shuffling gait, already impeded by his battered toes, was now completely devastated by the short length of chain binding his ankles.
When had the hall gotten so long?
Jack was sure he’d been on shorter hikes during basic.
But he had no choice, so Jack reached down somewhere deep inside the wellspring of who he was and found a seed of pride that Vicente had somehow overlooked. And there, battered and bruised, tattered and torn, surrounded by the enemy, Jack O’Neill somehow moved forward.
He didn’t know his destination. Perhaps to face Vicente and allow him to complete what he had started. Perhaps to face a firing squad. If Frank had failed it didn’t really matter. If Frank had failed then he was dead one way or the other. And so he moved down the hall a few inches at a time to face a future that would destroy him, and further away from a past in which he had everything to live for.
Jack was mildly surprised, relieved and yet apprehensive when the guards led him past the room in which he and Vicente had spent so many memorable hours. They continued through the office until they were, wonder of wonders, outside on the street in front of the policía estación, where an older model military truck sat with the engine running.
Despite the implications that boded ill for his chances at freedom, Jack lost himself temporarily in the glorious experience of breathing fresh unsoiled air and absorbing the clean early morning sky rather than the sights and smells he had been forced to endure over the past days. He allowed his deprived senses to revel in the reprieve, no matter how short-lived. To hear the chatter and song of the morning birds was sweeter than the most beautiful aria he had >ever heard. It was a treasure he would never forget.
But as the guards parted and Jack saw Vicente standing near the passenger side of the truck, wearing his controlled smile, as if he knew everything Jack was thinking, O’Neill knew the temporary pardon was over.
“Buenos días, Señor Valentine. I trust that you slept well.”
When Jack failed to respond to the obvious bait, Vicente continued pushing a bit harder. “I thought perhaps you would enjoy a tour of our beautiful country, since you are so keen on becoming involved in the concerns of the people here.” Gesturing towards the back of the covered vehicle he continued. “Unfortunately, accommodations were severely limited and I fear you won’t have the best of views. I suppose you will have to take my word on the beauty of the area you will miss.”
Jack mustered a weak glare. “So when did you become a travel agent, Coronel? Because I got to tell ya, so far your accommodations suck!”
Vicente laughed. “Maintain that fighting spirit for as long as you can, Americano. It makes my job so much more interesting. I will greatly enjoy your arrival in Managua. There, it will no longer be necessary to use such primitive fare when we have our little discussions. We will have plenty of time to become better acquainted. Years, if need be.” He paused, letting the implications of his words sink in, and as he slowly raked his eyes over Jack’s battered body he added with a smile, “But I don’t think it will take nearly that long.”
With a nod towards his men, Vicente turned and climbed gracefully into the cab of the big truck.
The solders lost no time in dragging Jack to the rear of the truck. Losing patience with his painfully slow progress, the guards tossed him unceremoniously into the back of the truck bed. Unable to break his fall, he landed hard on the unforgiving surface. Despite his best attempt to protect his injured arm, there was little he could do as the swollen immobile elbow was pinned between the weight of his body and the floor. There was not even time to cry out before a solid wall of blackness blanketed the early morning blue of the sky and Jack escaped gratefully into unconsciousness.